Jumping to FMLA Conclusions Doesn’t Pay Off

You strive to remain FMLA compliant and your employees are expected to return FMLA certifications within fifteen days. However, FMLA regulations include an “out” for employees who miss the deadline for reasons beyond their control. Before terminating an employee simply due to late paperwork, it’s a smart idea to consult with the employee and get the facts.

How exactly do you classify reasons beyond an employee’s control? It could be due to a doctor’s office being overwhelmed and behind on paperwork or a simple miscommunication. Consider the following scenario.

“Recent case: Gary was an assistant store manager for Walmart. When he began having panic attacks, he asked for time off and was told he’d have to take disability leave. The store manager gave him an FMLA packet, which included instructions for his doctor to fill out a medical certification. The doctor did, certifying that Gary had hypertension, depression and anxiety and needed FMLA Leave. Walmart claimed it never got the form despite a fax confirmation from the doctor’s office showing the date the form was faxed. Gary was fired for unapproved absences. He sued, alleging interference and retaliation. He pointed out that the regulations allow for extenuating circumstances. Gary said he would have followed up if he had known Walmart never received the form.”

Excessive rules of this nature are not viewed positively by courts. They want to see employees are given a reasonable chance and jumping to conclusions may prove more troublesome for your company than simply taking the time to understand and resolve an issue.