Tricky Case Involving FMLA Leave Results In Uncertainty for Sick Workers
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) June 12, 2013 - If a worker states they are sick enough to trigger FMLA leave, do they need to spell that out each time they need to take time off? The answer is unclear.
“This is one of those cases where an answer to the legal question was not made clear by the courts. It’s likely the case may be appealed, or another one similar to it may make its way to court and conclude with a different resolution,” remarked Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.
Bowman v. St. Luke’s Quakertown Hospital, No. 12-797, ED PA, 2012 is a recent case involving an ambulance driver who suffered a mini-stroke. Most people who have a stroke of this nature recover rapidly. However, they may have a major event later. After the drivers first stroke, he called in to work and spelled out what the issue was and requested FMLA leave to cover a few days of recovery. He was told to take paid leave instead.
The driver called in a number of times over the course of several weeks, but never stated whether he had suffered from another mini-stroke or not. The company fired him for unwarranted multiple absences from work. The ambulance driver sued, stating his absences were covered by the FMLA and they should not have been used against him.
In court, the company pointed out that they had no idea why he called in sick, because he never offered a reason and because that was the case, they were not obligated to consider possible FMLA leave.
The upshot? The court did not dismiss the case, coming to the conclusion it needed more evidence about what the ambulance driver actually said in the calls he made to his employer and whether or not the supervisor thought another stroke may be involved.
“This puts the company between a rock and a hard place. If they ask a worker whether their absence is due to an earlier incident/illness, they may be sued under the auspices of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as the question may indicate the company suspects the worker is disabled and cannot work. However, if the question is not asked and the missed time is counted against the worker, they can be sued for denying appropriate FMLA leave,” explained Coffey.
In situations such as this, it is best to have a clear company policy that involves, among other things, the necessity for any employees with serious illnesses to call in and explain their health situation in detail.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit http://www.employmentlawcounsel.com
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Chicago, IL 60654
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