Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), employers face significant challenges in understanding how much information from an employee is considered sufficient to trigger the employer’s duty to follow up. Courts have routinely found that minimal information will trigger an employer’s duty to ask if the employee needs leave and the corresponding duty to seek more information to determine if the FMLA applies. Knowledgeable employers know that an employee does not have to use any “magic language” and does not have to even mention the FMLA or even a need for “leave.” Rather, the employee must provide sufficient information “for an employer to reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply.”
Some recent decisions address this important issue. In a recent case decided in Michigan, Byron v. St. Mary’s Medical Center, U.S. District Court – Eastern District Michigan, Sept 11, 2012, an employee’s telling her supervisor that she was “too sick to work” and was “going to the emergency room” were sufficient comments to put the employer on notice that the FMLA may be in play. Interestingly, the employer noted that although the employee had pancreatitis, her absences were never more than three consecutive days, meaning that the absences did not qualify anyway. However, the Court noted that given the condition, and the employer’s duty to gather more information, the employer would have learned that the condition was such that her not obtaining treatment would have led to absences in excess of the three-days requirement.