Check the medical documentation: FMLA doesn’t automatically apply to ER visits

Many people seeking care in the local emergency room don’t need to be there. That bogs down care for genuine emergencies and drives up the cost of health care. Some employees, it seems, even assume that making a trip to the ER ensures they will get FMLA leave.

You don’t need to give employees FMLA leave just because they have a discharge sheet from the hospital. The real question is whether the medical condition that prompted them to visit the ER was a serious health condition. You can deny the request for FMLA leave if it’s obvious from the discharge information that the patient wasn’t seriously ill as defined in the FMLA.

Recent case: James Williams was a paramedic employed by the city of Plantation. He typically worked a 24-hour shift, starting at 7 a.m. and staying until 7 a.m. the following day.

During one such shift, he got a call from his wife, informing him that their young daughter was vomiting and running a fever. He told his supervisor he might need to leave if the daughter’s condition deteriorated.

Later during the shift, Williams’ wife called again to say she was taking the child to the emergency room because she sounded like she had croup and was now coughing hard. That’s when Williams told his boss he was leaving, and the boss told him to wait until he could get another paramedic to cover. When Williams left anyway, he was terminated.

Meanwhile, Williams’ daughter was diagnosed with croup and treated. She was sent home later that day and was well a little more than 24 hours later.

Williams sued, alleging he should have been approved for FMLA leave and that firing him interfered with his right to take protected leave.

After analyzing the child’s medical record, the court said he had no case. It was clear his daughter was not incapacitated more than three days, and her doctors said croup was not a serious health condition in most cases, including hers. Therefore, Williams wasn’t eligible for leave. (Williams v. City of Plantation, No. 07-61476, SD FL, 2008)