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Your FMLA obligation ends with forms and notice

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

Employers have to let their employees know about the FMLA so they can take advantage of the leave guaranteed by the law. But some employees don’t want to apply for FMLA leave. Perhaps they have privacy concerns. Maybe they want to avoid doctor visits or hate dealing with medical paperwork.

If an employee doesn’t take advantage of his FMLA rights, the employer can’t be held liable for not providing leave even if it turns out the employee was eligible.

Recent case: Michael Kobus worked as a painter for a Minnesota college. For years, he had been taking medication for anxiety. He later said he was “not proud” of his need for the drugs and didn’t want to tell anybody about it.

Then he got bad news about several family members and became more anxious. He asked whether he could take time off. HR told him about the FMLA. Kobus got a copy of the forms he would have to fill out and was reminded that the company handbook also included a copy of the FMLA policies.

Kobus told HR he didn’t have a doctor and didn’t want FMLA leave, just “a leave of absence.” He was told that FMLA was his only option. Kobus resigned.

Then he sued, alleging interference with his right to FMLA leave.

The court tossed out his case, reasoning that employees at least have to let their employers know they want FMLA leave after they get the relevant information on how to apply. (Kobus v. The College of St. Scholastica, No. 07-3881, DC MN, 2009)

Final note: Don’t forget that the new FMLA regulations have new notice requirements. If you have an employee handbook, you must now include a general FMLA notice in the handbook. If you don’t have a handbook, you must now give the notice to employees when they are hired.

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