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No Magic Words Required For FMLA Leave

No Magic Words Required For FMLA Leave

If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you are entitled to take an unpaid, job-protected leave from work for several different reasons, including if you suffer from a serious health condition. Even your mental illness or disorder can constitute a “serious health condition,” which makes you eligible for FMLA protection.

An employee does not have to expressly ask for FMLA or even indicate that he or she needs medical leave. In the recent case of Hannah v. Coats, No. 17-1943 (4th Cir. Feb 19, 2019), the employee was diagnosed with depression and disclosed her diagnosis to her supervisors. She did not ask for any accommodations but simply applied for a psychiatrist-recommended, four-week leave. The employer approved her leave and used her annual leave and sick leave to cover her time off.

But when the employee’s contract expired the following year and she did not get any other position for which she applied, she sued for FMLA interference.

The employer argued that the employee had no FMLA claim because she never said she needed FMLA or had a serious health condition. The Court disagreed, stating that once the employer was on notice of the employee’s need to take potentially FMLA-qualifying leave, the employer had the responsibility to inquire further and determine whether the employee qualified for FMLA leave.

Therefore, the Court made it clear that an employee need not specifically invoke the FMLA to benefit from its protections.

The Court also held that, if the employee had known that the FMLA protected her position, she would have only used sick leave for her leave of absence and not annual leave, which caused a benefit loss worth at least $20,000. The employee’s FMLA interference claim was allowed to proceed to trial.

If you are seeking advice, assistance and representation for FMLA-related situations, the attorneys at Lebau & Neuworth may be able to help you. We are experienced in handling all types of employment claims. Please contact Lebau & Neuworth at 888-456-2529 or lebauneuworth.com/contact-us.

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