Is a “Casual Conversation” About a Parent’s Health Enough to Trigger FMLA?

By Eric B. Meyer

Last month, in this post, I addressed a recent opinion in which the court held that the words “Emergency Room,” when uttered by an employee to his employer, are enough to put the employer on notice — at least initially — that the employee needs leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a parent with a serious health condition.

In another recent opinion, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago examined inquiry notice under the FMLA to determine whether a causal conversation about a loved one’s health — without mentioning the letters FMLA — is enough to alert an employer to the seriousness of a health condition so as to trigger the need for FMLA leave.

The Court held that it did not. It said, in part:

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Here, the evidence falls short of establishing inquiry notice. Nicholson had one “casual conversation” with Naatz and others about the challenges of dealing with aging parents and may have mentioned her father’s condition. This is clearly insufficient as a matter of law to notify Naatz that FMLA-qualifying leave was needed.”

So, two takeaways for employers to limit what may be a close-call under FMLA:

  • Employers should make sure that supervisors are trained to address employee leave that may fall within the scope of the FMLA, especially when the employee does not specifically mention the letters FMLA.
  • If an employer even senses that employee leave may fall within the scope of the FMLA, confirm it by obtaining medical certification from the employee.

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 (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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