- A hospital did not absolve itself of its responsibilities under the Family and Medical Leave Act when it provided workers' compensation benefits to a housekeeper who injured her knee on the job, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC., No. 19-13461 (11th Cir., April 6, 2021)).
- The plaintiff tripped in a break room and injured her right knee. Her employer processed the claim as a workers' comp injury and fired the woman after she failed to pass several physical tests required to return to work. The hospital never advised the employee of her rights under the FMLA before it fired her, the court said. The plaintiff sued for interference of her rights under the federal law.
- The district court granted the hospital summary judgment, but the 11th Circuit reversed its decision. The appeals court noted that the critical question was whether the employee had adequately put the employer on notice that her absence was an FMLA qualifying leave. The court noted that, among other reasons, the hospital's FMLA administrator was present when the plaintiff injured herself in the break room. Further, the court opined, the hospital failed to give the employee the two FMLA notices she was owed. While the employer argued it satisfied these requirements by providing the employee workers' comp, the court ruled that "the FMLA does not set up a clash of Titans between itself and workers' compensation."
Generally, it's up to the employee to provide enough information or to ask for FMLA leave so that the employer is on notice that the absence qualifies for time off under the federal law, sources have told HR Dive. Employees are not required to use the term "FMLA leave."
Apart from this court's ruling, there have been several instances in which courts held the employer at fault for not recognizing an employee's FMLA leave request. The Seventh Circuit ruled in 2019, for instance, that a school district had ample notice of the need for FMLA leave after an employee repeatedly told her supervisor about her ailments, which included uncontrollable crying and showing up late because she couldn't "drag herself out of bed."
Jeff Nowak, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson, has said that one of the common mistakes made by managers is that they fail to recognize an employee's need for FMLA leave. An employee who has called in sick because of a migraine headache or chronic back pain may be protected by the FMLA, he continued. As a result, managers and supervisors should be trained to recognize FMLA requests.