Did a text message qualify as a request for FMLA leave?
Here are the details of the case:
Chrisanne Lanier worked as a business analyst for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
One of the requirements of being an analyst was to be on call for lengthy shifts, and on the week of Sept. 1, 2010, Lanier was scheduled to be on call.
But on September 2, she sent a text message to her manager saying her father was in the emergency room and she wouldn’t be able to be on call that night. She got another supervisor to cover for her.
There were no other issues until Lanier began serving her make-up call rotation later that month. One night that week, Lanier’s supervisor received a call that Lanier wasn’t responding to pages from the hospital. The supervisor filled in for Lanier that night.
The next day, the supervisor confronted Lanier about the previous evening. Lanier responded by throwing her pager out of her cubicle before stating, “I’m so f—— pissed at you for what you did on my father’s heart attack.” She then stormed out of the office.
The hospital, as a result, then determined that it was accepting Lanier’s resignation.
Should manager have read staffer’s mind?
Lanier responded by filing suit, claiming FMLA interference, among other things.
The court noted that Lanier didn’t need to use the exact words “FMLA leave” in order to qualify for FMLA. Instead, all she had to do was give her manager enough information that he could ascertain that her request for time off could fall under the FMLA.
But the court said Lanier failed to do that, as Samir Mathur notes on the IT-Lex blog:
In this case, the text message sent on September 2nd was a request from plaintiff ‘requesting to be taken off call’ that night. Clearly that, alone, cannot be sufficient notice for FMLA requirements.”
Lanier argued that her supervisor should have asked more questions because he knew that Lanier’s father was in poor health. But the court found that wasn’t enough:
It would be unreasonable to expect [Lanier’s supervisor] to know that Lanier meant to request FMLA leave based on these facts. Lanier’s only request was to be relieved of on-call duty that night. Lanier had taken FMLA leave in the past and was familiar with the proper way to request it, yet she did not do so here. No reasonable jury could conclude that the text message Lanier sent was sufficient to apprise Leary of her intent to request FMLA leave to care for her father.
The court, citing a previous FMLA interference case, had this solid takeaway for HR pros:
“An employer may have a duty to inquire further if statements made by the employee warrant it, but the employer is not required to be clairvoyant.”
The case is Lanier v. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.