Casual comments put you on FMLA notice — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Casual comments put you on FMLA notice

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Reginald Moore, a security-guard supervisor at a Virginia courthouse, told his boss he needed time off to care for his wife who had emphysema. A few months later, Moore said he needed even more leave because his wife had been diagnosed with incurable cancer.

The boss agreed, as long as it didn't interfere with his duties. So for several months, Moore, an exempt employee, worked shorter days and used up lots of sick leave. One year after his initial leave requests, Moore was fired. He sued under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

His employer complained that Moore couldn't be eligible for FMLA because he never even verbally asked for FMLA leave. But the court let his case go to trial, saying Moore's informal comments about his need for intermittent leave were enough to put the company on FMLA notice.

FMLA regulations say that if employees can foresee a need for leave, as in a pregnancy, they must give 30 days' advance notice of the reason for leave and the anticipated duration. When the leave isn't foreseeable, workers must notify you as soon as practical, which usually means two or three days.

Moore did these things, but he never specifically requested FMLA leave. That's OK, the court said. While employees must explain their reason for leave and estimate their return, they don't need to assert their rights explicitly, i.e., "I need FMLA leave." (Moore v. United International Investigative Services Inc., No. 1:01cv1886, E.D. Va., 2002)

Advice: Advise your managers to perk up their ears. It's not always clear what makes a valid notice under the FMLA, so it's best to be alert for any circumstance that may indicate a request. Employees don't need to mention the FMLA by name, but if they give you enough information for you to decide that they qualify for FMLA leave, consider yourself on notice.

Within two business days after learning of an employee's FMLA-related leave, send written notice explaining that the leave falls under FMLA. By putting workers on official notice, you set the 12-week meter running on their annual leave allotment.

Key point: Even if you make a mistake and fail to designate a worker's leave as counting toward "FMLA leave," you don't have to offer him extra FMLA leave beyond 12 weeks a year. The U.S. Supreme Court made this clear last spring in the Ragsdale case.


Give managers 'tip sheet' on FMLA compliance

Help your managers understand and comply with the FMLA by getting a copy of our three-page report, FMLA in a Nutshell. To have it e-mailed to you, send us an e-mail request at and put "FMLA" in the subject line.

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