Employees who want to takemust let their employers know. They don’t have to specifically ask for leave, but they do have to provide enough information for the employer to understand that the worker or a family member suffers from a serious health condition.
Merely describing a chaotic life full of difficult events isn’t enough.
Recent case: Sarah, the director of constituent affairs for a Sacramento city councilwoman, regularly worked 50-plus hour workweeks.
While Sarah was working long hours, her home was affected by severe mold infestation. Gradually, family members became ill with respiratory problems. Mold remediation took a long time, and Sarah and her family ended up living in a series of motel rooms. During that time, Sarah discussed her housing problems with her boss, but apparently never revealed that her husband had sought medical treatment for mold exposure.
On a Friday, Sarah let her boss know she would not be attending a council-sponsored St. Patrick’s Day event. Her text messages revealed she was trying to get moved over the weekend. On Monday, her boss sent her a letter informing her she was no longer needed, but that she “had a ‘Plan B’ for [Plaintiff’s] continued employment with the City.”
A few weeks later, Sarah sent an FMLA leave request to care for her husband but was told she had already been terminated.
Sarah sued, alleging that her supervisor should have known she needed FMLA leave.
The court left it to the jury to decide whether Sarah had been describing a situation involving a genuine serious health condition—or merely a chaotic series of events. The jury sided with the employer. (Novo v. Ashby, CD CA, 2017)