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New FMLA Decision Highlights the Importance of Following Employer’s Absence Policies

by | Jun 18, 2021 | Family and Medical Leave Act |

A recent federal decision from the Eastern District of Michigan addressed the question of whether an employer may discipline an employee who qualifies for FMLA leave, but nonetheless fails to follow company policy when taking an absence.  In Reed v. Delta Air Lines, the Plaintiff – Daphne – worked as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines.  Daphne was diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis and had 12 weeks of intermittent FMLA leave approved every year since 2010 in order to cope with her flare ups.  Each year, she needed to provide medical documentation in order to obtain approval for re-certification of her intermittent leave.

In 2017, Daphne was disciplined for several absences that she argued should have been covered by FMLA.  However, at the time of these absences, Daphne had failed to provide medical certification for FMLA leave, and therefore the Court held that, “Plaintiff’s FMLA interference claim fails, because she cannot show that she was entitled to leave under the FMLA and that Delta denied her FMLA benefits to which she was entitled.”

Daphne also argued that she was wrongly disciplined for one of her absences because it occurred after she was certified to take leave.  However, the Court held that she was not immune from discipline simply because she had been certified for intermittent FMLA.  Daphne still needed to comply with Delta’s usual notice and procedural requirements for calling-in prior to taking leave.  As Daphne herself admitted in her deposition, she was aware that Delta policy required her to call in sick at least three hours before her sign in time, and she was required to specifically state that she was using her FMLA leave.  Daphne knowingly failed to follow these policies, and therefore the Court held that Delta was permitted to disciplined her.

Takeaway for Employees

Just because you are eligible for FMLA leave, this does not mean that you can disregard the certification and re-certification requirements.  It also does not mean that you can disregard your employer’s call-in policy.  Failure to follow these requirements can result in discipline or denial of FMLA leave that you would otherwise be entitled to.

Takeaway for Employers

Employers need not be afraid to discipline employees who fail to follow well established call-in procedures, even those employees who qualify for FMLA leave.  As noted above, the Court affirmed that employers can simultaneously grant intermittent FMLA leave for an employee, but also discipline them for failure to follow proper procedures when invoking their approved leave.

If you have any questions about FMLA leave, or any area of employment law, contact Thatcher Zavaro & Mani at 301-850-1246www.ThatcherLaw.com.  Follow us on: