Employer’s Internal Notice Requirements For FMLA Are Too Stringent

By Vance Knapp

In Curry v. Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, Inc., No. 11-CV-00093 (W.D. KY April 8, 2013), the plaintiff requested FMLA leave on July 31, 2009, and Goodwill gave the plaintiff until August 15th to submit a health care certification form from her doctor. The plaintiff’s doctor did not complete this form until August 19th. (Plaintiff claimed that Goodwill gave her until August 28th to submit the certification.) In the interim, Goodwill terminated Plaintiff’s employment on August 17th for falsifying records and other performance issues. On August 27th, Goodwill denied plaintiff’s request for FMLA leave because “Goodwill has no obligation to provide a leave of absence to a former employee.”

In denying Goodwill’s motion for summary judgment, the court found that there were material issues of fact concerning Goodwill’s legitimate business reasons for terminating plaintiff’s employment. In reviewing the denial of FMLA leave, the court held that, although federal regulations permit employers to “require an employee to comply with [its] usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave,” 29 C.F.R. § 825.302(d), an employer’s internal procedural requirements cannot be more strict than the procedural requirements contemplated by the FMLA. The court held that Goodwill could not deny FMLA leave, because the employee had provided the required certification prior to her foreseeable leave. At most, Goodwill could only deny leave until the plaintiff submitted the required paperwork, not deny the leave entirely.

Moral of the story—FMLA requires patience, and you can’t game the system by creating artificial or unreasonable deadlines to demonstrate FMLA qualifications.

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