When an employee is suffering from a medical condition or one of their family members is, their employer is required by law to make them eligible for twelve weeks of unpaid, job protected leave per year under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Unfortunately, there has been some confusion over what constitutes sufficient notice to trigger the FMLA. A new case may shed some light on those requirements.
According to this case, Jamie Lichtenstein, a psychiatric technician, telephoned her employer before her shift was to begin and informed them that she was “currently in the emergency room because her mother was taken to the hospital by ambulance and Lichtenstein informed her employer that she would be unable to work that day. A few days after the incident Lichtenstein provided her employer with additional information about her mother’s medical condition and requested a leave of absence for a little while. However by this time, the employer had made the decision to terminate Lichtenstein for issues unrelated to her mother’s ER visit.
In the lawsuit filed against her employer Lichtenstein claimed FMLA interference and retaliation. She alleges that her absence had constituted protected leave and that her employer had considered the absence when deciding to terminate her employment. The district court dismissed her claims and concluded that Lichtenstein notice for FMLA was inadequate because it did not include enough information for her employer to conclude that her mother had a serious medical condition. During the appeal, the Third Circuit court reversed this decision and stated that, “when the leave is unforeseeable, the employee’s obligation is to provide sufficient information for an employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply to the leave request”. The Third Circuit court explained that Lichtenstein notifying her employer that her mother had been taken to the ER was not enough information to conclude that her mother had a “serious medical condition” but did provide enough information for the employer to determine that her mother “may have a serious medical condition” so FMLA did apply. The Court concluded that once the employee provides reasonable initial notice that FMLA may apply, it is the employer responsibility to request more information if needed.
This decision by the Third Circuit court may change the way some FMLA cases are viewed or may even change the outcome of some of these cases for employees all across the United States and even for employees in Tennessee. If you or someone you know has requested FMLA leave and then been terminated because of it, you should speak with one of our caring and knowledgeable Tennessee Family Medical Leave Act lawyers immediately to find out how this decision may affect your case.
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