Court addresses the importance of capturing an employee’s call-in information
As well as mandates for doctors’ notes
Many people suffer from chronic illnesses such as migraines, and many of these people take FMLA leave from work due to the condition. Under the FMLA, when an employer has already provided leave for a condition for which an employee takes leave intermittently (such as chronic conditions), when calling in, the employee is expected to either indicate that the absence is for FMLA or for the particular condition. At your place of business, in such situations, is someone capturing what employees are actually saying when they call in? Doing so could help defend or deter an action in court.
Case in point
Miranda took FMLA leave for migraines. On one such occasion, Miranda was absent from work beginning Monday, July 18 and continuing through Thursday, July 21. On each of those days, Miranda left a voicemail in the early morning for her supervisor, Kevin, to report her absence from work.
When Miranda returned to work, she was asked to provide a doctor’s note because she was out for more than three days, and company policy required such a note before returning to work. Without it, employees could be terminated, as they were considered away without official leave. Miranda did not provide such a note. Therefore, she was terminated.
Being unhappy with the termination, Miranda filed a claim against the employer, arguing that it interfered with her FMLA rights, and retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave.
In court, one of the sticking points was whether Miranda provided enough information when she called in to indicate that her absence was FMLA leave. Miranda and the employer disagreed as to what details Miranda provided in the voicemails she left for Kevin. Miranda argued that in two of the three voicemails she said that she specifically mentioned her migraines.
The employer, on the other hand, argued that Miranda never specified migraines in the voicemails, and stated only that she would be absent due to either an “illness” or “doctor’s visits.” Kevin indicated that he wrote down when somebody called in and what information they left. In connection with Miranda’s absences on July 18–21, Kevin wrote “ill/out,” “ill out,” “DR,” and “DR,” respectively. When asked directly if Miranda mentioned “migraine or headache at all” in the voicemails, however, Kevin testified that he did not recall.
Because neither Miranda nor the employer had solid evidence reading what information Miranda provided, the case will need to be decided by a jury. Had Kevin kept recordings of Miranda’s call-in voice mails, he might have had enough evidence to stop the case from progressing.
The court was also not keen upon the employer requiring an employee on FMLA leave to provide a doctor’s note before returning to work after a three-day FMLA absence. FMLA regulations generally limit the circumstances in which employers may seek medical information from an employee’s health care provider. Where an employer’s internal policies conflict with the provisions of the FMLA, the FMLA controls. Therefore, by requiring Miranda to obtain a doctor’s note for absences exceeding three consecutive days and before she returned to work, the employer imposed on her a burden that is more onerous than permitted under FMLA regulations. It basically made a doctor’s note a condition of receiving FMLA leave for absences of four or more consecutive days.
Holladay v. Rockwell Collins, Inc., District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, No. 3:17-cv-00078, January 24, 2019
This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.
You may also enjoy the following articles:
What can you do about intermittent FMLA leave?
Denied promotion=FMLA retaliation
Would you hop aboard the employee FMLA training train?
The J. J. Keller FMLA Manager service is your business resource for tracking employee leave and ensuring compliance with the latest Federal and State FMLA requirements.
Start Your Free Trial View Demo