Can the Words “Emergency Room” Trigger an Employee’s FMLA Request?

By Eric B. Meyer

As you know from this post, an employee who wants leave from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), does not need to use the word, “FMLA.” Instead, the employee need only provide enough information for the employer to understand that the employee needs FMLA leave.

So what about the words, “Emergency Room?” That is, if an employee calls her supervisor and says:

I am currently in the emergency room. My mother has been brought into the hospital via ambulance, and I am unable to work today.”

Can that trigger an FMLA request?

The question: does the FMLA apply?

If you are in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you should know that the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia answered that question on Friday in this case with a resounding yes:

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The question is not whether the information conveyed to the employer necessarily rules out non-FMLA scenarios. The question is whether the information allows an employer to ? reasonably determine whether the FMLA may apply…It does not matter that a person rushed by ambulance to the emergency room ? might not require inpatient care as defined under the FMLA….

As common sense would suggest, people rushed to the emergency room in an ambulance are generally in a more serious health situation than people who go on their own accord.”

The Court did, however, carve out an exception. If an employer obtains additional information from an employee affirming that an ER visit was not to treat for a serious health condition, then the absence is not FMLA-qualifying.

So, companies who have an employee call in from the emergency room should be sure to follow-up to confirm whether the hospital stay was indeed to treat for a serious health condition.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (, which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.


1 Comment on “Can the Words “Emergency Room” Trigger an Employee’s FMLA Request?

  1. FMLA is rough, but basically the law most always sides with the employee and doesn’t care if the employer has to go a bit out of the way to determine whether the employee should be bestowed the protections of FMLA or not.  The employer is seen to be the subject matter expert and should always inquire!

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