Once an employee takes leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, he or she bears the burden of notifying the employer of any medical need to extend the leave beyond the time set forth in the certification paperwork. Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an FMLA interference claim from an employee whose doctor failed to provide the requested information to her employer.
In Brown v. Automotive Components Holdings, LLC, the plaintiff provided medical certification from her family doctor stating that she was unable to work for two weeks due to stress. She was not able to see a psychiatrist until the day after leave expired, and asked her family doctor to pass this information to her employer. The doctor failed to do so, but the plaintiff never followed up to make sure that a leave extension had been requested and granted.
Upon her failure to return to work, the plaintiff was provided with written notice by the employer, sent via certified mail of her absence without authorization, and the fact that she would be terminated if she did not respond. While the plaintiff received notice of the certified mailing, she never picked up the letter. The psychiatrist faxed a leave extension request to the employer the day that she was terminated.
The Seventh Circuit upheld summary judgment for the employer for two reasons. First, under the Department of Labor's FMLA rules, employees seeking extension of leave must notify the employer within two working days of learning the need for the extension, and not within two days of the expiration of the initial leave. Second, the plaintiff failed to follow her employer's internal rules regarding leave requests. She could not prove extenuating circumstances that made such notice impracticable.
Employers that consistently apply internal procedures regarding leave requests and extensions have greater flexibility when it comes to addressing employees who fail to return from scheduled medical leaves of absence.