Employees covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) have the right to take job-protected, unpaid leave from their jobs for specific medical and family-related reasons. However, taking this leave can be more challenging than people expect, and issues can arise.
For instance, a recent case highlights complications regarding the reporting procedures for employees on FMLA leave.
Deviating from the call-in requirement
Employees taking FMLA leave must generally comply with a the employer’s call-in requirement. In other words, when an employee reports an FMLA absence, the employee must follow their employers’ “usual and customary” call-in procedure. However, there are exceptions when circumstances prevent an employee from doing this.
In the case currently under debate, an assembly line worker notified his employer of his leave via Facebook Messenger, instead of the usual and customary call-in procedure, because he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. The employer accepted this alternate notification method. The employer again accepted the worker’s notice via Facebook Messenger when the worker was readmitted to the hospital.
However, after the worker took a third leave and notified his employer in the same manner, the employer fired him.
The employer maintains that the employee abandoned his position because he failed to comply with the “usual and customary” call-in procedures to report the absence.
The employee argued that because his employer accepted the first two notifications via Facebook Messenger, they should also have accepted the third one.
The question currently before the court is is whether the employer had grounds to terminate the worker for failing to comply with the usual and customary call-in procedure, or whether the employer interfered with the employee’s FMLA rights by rejecting a method of notice the employer had repeatedly accepted before.
This case has crucial takeaways for employers and employees.
On the one hand, employers, should understand that deviating from standard reporting procedures when an employee is on FMLA leave carries risks. If exceptions are necessary, employers should make clear to the employee what the limits of the exceptions are.
On the other hand, employees must know that documentation and compliance are crucial when taking FMLA leave. Keep track of your exchanges; get approval in writing; and review your employer’s policies for FMLA notification processes so you know what you must do.
Further, discussing questions or concerns with your employer or an attorney as soon as possible can help you protect yourself and your rights.