Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a covered employer must give a qualified employee FMLA leave to care for the employee's family member(s) with a serious health condition.
Often, the issue is whether the employee has provided sufficient information about the family member's condition as to trigger a duty on the employer's part to give the employee notice of her FMLA rights.
Consider these facts: An employee's father was diagnosed with cancer, and she told her supervisor that she "might" need to take time off to care for him.
Later, the employee indicated she also needed to drive her mother to the mother's medical appointments. However, she emphasized she tried to schedule those appointments during non-working hours.
On two occasions, the employee took vacation days to care for her parents. Each time, the supervisor approved the request.
Eventually, after the employee was fired for performance issues, she filed an FMLA suit. The issue was whether the employer had received sufficient information as to create a duty to inform the employee of her rights to seek FMLA leave to care for her parents.
The court ruled against the employee. Even though the employee need not use the words "FMLA," she must alert the employer as to the seriousness of the family member's condition and the employee's need to provide care.
In this case, the court held the employee's comments about her parents’ condition were too indefinite as to provide notice of the potential need for FMLA leave.
This was a close case. It would not have taken much more specificity for the employee to have prevailed. For this reason, employers are wise to give notice of FMLA leave rights, even when it isn't clear that there is a need to do so.