Qualified employees may take job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act based on their Serious Health Condition (SHC). A new decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals makes clear that the employee retains entitlement to leave even if she is not diagnosed with a SHC until after her employment ends.
In Valdivia v. Township High School, the plaintiff worked as an administrative assistant at a high school. She began suffering from a series of mental issues, including insomnia, weight loss, and uncontrolled emotional outbursts. She went to the school’s principal and disclosed that she was experiencing problems that were spilling over into her work performance, and she asked for time off until the beginning of the next school year. She eventually resigned after the principal failed to extend a job offer for the next school year, but unsuccessfully tried to rescind the resignation. She was subsequently diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and sued the school claiming interference with her FMLA rights.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. It rejected the employer’s contention that the plaintiff did not have rights to FMLA leave because she was not diagnosed with a SHC while employed. The court said that the employer had ample indications that the employee was suffering from mental health issues, and had been placed on constructive notice of her need for leave based on her meetings with the principal.
Once placed on notice that an employee may have a SHC, the employer is entitled to obtain medical certification as a condition of granting FMLA leave. However, as demonstrated by this decision, the employer cannot ignore or reject the employee’s leave request because at the time the request is made, she has not received a formal diagnosis. Employers should treat all employee requests for assistance based on apparent physical or mental health issues as requests for FMLA or other leave.