The Importance of Following Your Employer’s ‘Usual and Customary’ Procedures for Requesting FMLA Leave

The law imposes on employers numerous requirements when it comes to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers would be wise to ensure they have established clear procedures for allowing workers to seek leave, and then carefully document those requests. Workers, similarly, should take care to follow their employers’ established procedures for requesting FMLA leave, as a failure to follow those steps may be harmful to a future FMLA lawsuit. For answers to your FMLA questions, be sure you are consulting with a knowledgeable Atlanta FMLA leave lawyer.

In terms of following leave request procedures, an FMLA interference case from Gwinnett County is instructive.

The worker, I.K., was a store manager at a warehouse club store in Duluth when, in 2018, she became pregnant and had a baby. In the fall of that same year, she injured her back while moving a pallet of merchandise.

Also in 2018, the manager encountered multiple disciplinary issues. The third of those incidents stemmed from I.K.’s failure to report her October back injury in a manner compliant with company policy.

In early November, the employer decided to fire I.K. Later that same day, the manager made a request with the employer’s third-party leave administrator for six weeks of FMLA leave for “baby bonding.” The manager’s supervisors were unaware of her FMLA request when they fired I.K.

The manager sued the employer for FMLA interference. The employer sought summary judgment tossing the manager’s case. The employer was successful at both the trial court and appellate levels.

One of the keys to the employer’s success was the manager’s failure to follow the employer’s policies. 29 CFR Section 825.303(c) says that, in circumstances where a worker’s need for FMLA leave is not foreseeable, the worker “must comply with the employer’s usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave, absent unusual circumstances.” In I.K.’s case, both she and the employer acknowledged that she did not follow the employer’s “internal notice and procedural requirements” for seeking FMLA leave.

Meeting the ‘Unusual Circumstances’ Threshold

The only way to save her claim, then, was for the manager to prove that unusual circumstances existed in her situation. The court explained that these sorts of circumstances could include, among other things, a worker’s need for emergency treatment or a technical inability to submit a leave request (such as a telephone number with no answer or a full voicemail box.)

The manager failed to present any viable unusual circumstances to the court. Even though her supervisor failed to refer her to the third-party leave administrator, the court determined that this alone did not meet the “unusual circumstance” threshold. Previously, the manager had made four procedurally compliant requests for leave. Based on that evidence, the manager could not rely solely on her supervisor’s failure to refer her to the third-party administrator to support her interference claim.

Under the FMLA, an employee may entitled to as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The law prohibits employers from interfering with workers exercising their FMLA rights. Whether or not an employer’s actions or inaction qualify as interference may depend on many factors, including whether the worker followed the employer’s rules for requesting leave. If you have FMLA questions, get in touch with the knowledgeable Atlanta FMLA leave attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert to get the experience-driven answers you need. Don’t wait… contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today.

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