Take Note: What you say when you call off of work does matter if you want Family Medical Leave Act Protection

Posted August 2012 in Family Medical Leave by Andrea C. Farney

Give your employer sufficient detail concerning a serious health condition and the need for you to care for your family member.  That’s the takeaway from Lichtenstein v. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 691 F. 3d 294 (3d Cir. 2012).  In August, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals clarified how specific an employee must be when giving their employer notice of unforeseeable family medical leave (FMLA).  Jamie Lichtenstein worked as a psychiatric technician for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).  One morning, she called in to work saying she “was currently in the emergency room, that my mother had been brought into the hospital via ambulance, and I would be unable to work that day.”  She did not mention FMLA leave.  Shortly after, UPMC terminated her for attendance issues.  Lichtenstein’s lawsuit included a claim that her call-off was FMLA protected and that UPMC used this call off as part of its decision to terminate her employment.  The District Court gave summary judgment to UPMC saying the notice Lichtenstein gave was inadequate.  The Third Circuit disagreed (2-1) and reversed for Lichtenstein.  The Court considered the terms “emergency room,” “ambulance” and “unable” to work that day as key word that would reasonably be interpreted to flag possible FMLA coverage.  The Court reasoned these words can give an employer enough information to reasonably determine the FMLA may apply because they indicate a serious health condition and the need for care.  For more information about rights under the Family Medical Leave Act, see the Department of Labor website.   

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