Human Resources News & Insights

FMLA lawsuit: Employers can still enforce call-in policies

A recent court ruled that when it comes to FMLA leave, employees have two big obligations.

  • Give proper notice of the need for leave, and
  • Follow their employer’s call-in policies.

An employee in a recent case did neither and lost his suit in which he claimed his employer violated his rights by terminating him while he was on FMLA leave.

What happened

On Aug. 4, 2008, an employee was scheduled to return to work from a stint in the National Guard — but he didn’t show up.

The company’s call-in policy required all employees to report all absences directly to a manager — they couldn’t just leave a voice mail.

The employee called his manager and said he was feeling ill and needed a few days to recuperate. His manager said a doctor’s note was needed to excuse the absence. For the three days that followed, the employee left a voice mail with his manager stating he was tested for pneumonia at a local clinic.

The clinic never acknowledged he had pneumonia, only that he was sick and needed a few more days off.

On Aug. 11, the employee told his manager he was still sick, and once again got a note from the clinic saying he’d be out until Aug. 18.

When that date rolled around, the employee never showed up and never called. At that point, his employer sent him a termination letter.

‘Didn’t you get my note?’

After receiving the letter, the employee called his company’s HR manager saying a third note had been faxed to his office from the clinic — a note the company never received.

The HR manager gave the employee one more chance to produce the note, which he was unable to do. Instead, he provided a new note that was dated the same day he spoke to his manager. It estimated he’d be out until the end of September.

The HR manager let the termination stand — and the employee sued, saying his FMLA rights had been violated.

The verdict

A court upheld the man’s termination.

The court said the company didn’t interfere with the man’s rights because he didn’t provide proper notice of his need for leave.

Plus, the company had a legit reason for firing him: He violated the call-in policy.

Takeaway: Companies still have a right to enforce their call-in policies, regardless of whether or not an employee’s absence is FMLA-related.

Cite: To v. U.S. Bancorp (PDF)

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