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Avoid stricter notification policy than FMLA requires

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Can your organization require employees to give notice of their need for FMLA in a way that's more stringent than the standards set by federal law? Courts are split on this issue, so until they agree, you should play it safe. That means if your notification policies conflict with the FMLA, always err on the side of the law's requirements, not your stricter rules.

The FMLA says employees must give their organization at least 30 days' notice when leave is foreseeable. When the need isn't foreseeable, they must inform you "as soon as practicable."

Another key point: Employees don't need any magic words to request FMLA leave. They aren't even required to mention "FMLA." Instead, the burden is on you to interpret an employee's statements to determine whether an FMLA-qualifying event exists. That's why it's best to route employee-absences calls to one person on staff (possibly you) who can recognize FMLA issues without the employee raising them.

Recent case: Sam Cavin injured his shoulder in a motorcycle accident. His doctors excused him from work for five days, and he called plant security to report his absences. But he failed to follow company policy that required him, within three days, to report absences of more than one day to the Leave Coordination Office. As a result, the organization refused to approve those absences as FMLA-qualifying leave.

When Cavin's pain forced him to miss additional days, he was fired for violating the leave policy. He sued and won. A federal appeals court said the firm violated the FMLA by requiring internal notice requirements that are stricter than those in FMLA regulations. Specifically, the company required him to contact two different offices to report his leave, while FMLA rules only say workers must provide notice "to the employer." (Cavin v. Honda of America Manufacturing Inc., No. 02-3357, 6th Cir., 2003)

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