Before firing for too much sick leave, ensure it wasn’t FMLA-covered serious condition

The FMLA doesn’t cover minor illnesses, and employers are free to punish employees who miss work because of them. However, employers do have an obligation to investigate further if the employee reports she received medical treatment and followed call-off rules.

Don’t risk an unnecessary FMLA lawsuit by jumping to conclusions that an absence wasn’t for an FMLA-qualifying serious health condition.

Recent case: Bridget’s employer had strict attendance rules, especially for employees who missed work after volunteering for overtime. A clear policy required anyone who was going to miss a shift to call their supervisor first.

Bridget volunteered for an overtime shift. However, before it began, she went to a doctor and was diagnosed with strep throat and an ear infection. She twice called her supervisor and said she was too sick to work. She offered to provide medical documentation.

She was fired for missing her voluntary overtime shift. Reason: The employers did not believe she had a serious health condition.


Bridget sued, arguing that she should have been given the opportunity to present medical documents.

The employer argued that Bridget’s lawsuit should be dismissed because she hadn’t provided enough information in her call to signal the need for FMLA leave. She merely reported being sick.

The court disagreed. It said a jury should determine if she provided enough information to put the employer on notice that she might have an FMLA-covered serious health condition. (Mitchell v. Federal Cartridge Company, DC MN, 2017)