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Keeping Your Medical Condition Private Could Undermine Your FMLA Rights


One of the most important aspects of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage is eligibility. If you are not eligible under the statute, then you are not entitled to the protections the statute provides. When an employer receives a request for FMLA leave, the first step is to determine whether the employee is actually eligible. Employees, on the other hand, are also required to respond to questions asked by their employers for the purpose of determining whether their medical condition qualifies for FMLA leave. If you do not comply with these requests, you run the risk of jeopardizing your FMLA rights.

Brown v. Constellation Brands, Inc.

In Brown v. Constellation Brands, Inc., a case out of California, an employee of twenty-five (25) years was terminated after being absent multiple times. Under the workplace attendance policy, union employees can be terminated if they have more than eight (8) absences. In 2015, prior to his termination, this employee had been taking intermittent leave for a medical condition related to his stomach. In 2016, he suffered from a different ailment and was absent for emergency surgery. Although he had experience with the requirements for taking FMLA leave, the employee failed to properly report his need for leave under the FMLA to his employer.

Failure to Give Proper Notice of FMLA-Covered Condition

The employee, Brown, required emergency surgery for the removal of a cyst in his buttocks. However, the only notice he gave for his reason for being absent was “personal” reasons, presumably because he was embarrassed. Essentially, Brown refused to provide sufficient information regarding his need for FMLA leave. Even when he returned to work after the surgery, he did not tell any managers that he had surgery.

Unapproved Absences Resulted in Violation of Attendance Policy

When he returned to work, Brown had exceeded the allowed number of absences under the company’s policy and was subject to termination. When a Human Resources employee audited Brown’s absences, it was noted that he had “called out FMLA” on one occasion and was “Under Doctor’s care” for several other days. Nevertheless, there was no actual doctor’s note regarding any medical condition. As a result, it was determined that Brown did not have approved FMLA leave for those dates.

After being disciplined on several occasions with regard to his absences, Brown was again absent and failed to call in the required thirty (30) minutes before his shift. The day the decision was made to terminate Brown, his employer finally received a faxed note from his doctor. However, the note only stated he was under a doctor’s care but did not provide any details that would allow his employer to assess whether his condition qualified him for FMLA leave.

Failure to Provide Appropriate Notice of Condition Doomed His Case

An employer is only required to provide FMLA leave to a qualifying employee if the employer has reasonable notice that the employee’s medical condition meets the requirements of the statute. In this case, Brown failed to meet this burden because his only notice was that he needed to absent for “personal” reasons. Indeed, Brown admitted under oath that he never specifically told his employer about his emergency surgery or what it was for. For this reason, his claim for termination in violation of the FMLA failed.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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