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HR Solutions

Your "Duty of Inquiry" under FMLA

07/03/06

When an employee telephones and communicates the need to be absent because of health problems, the law of family and medical leave may shift the burden to you to inquire.  This can occur if there is evidence that you already knew or should have known about the employee's health issues.  This means that even if the notice you receive is brief and jumbled, e.g., the employee calls in with a cursory message in voice mail, the FMLA may be triggered because you are now obliged to ask for more information.

All the law expects of an employee is that she tells you she needs to take time off because of a health issue, and that she keeps in touch with you.  In one case the employee's spouse called HR and said: "She's going to the hospital for tests, I can't disclose the reason now," but failed to get back to the employer.  The duty of inquiry did NOT arise in that case.

But in another the employee called the employer and got the security guard.  He told the guard that he was suffering from chest pains and was having difficulty breathing, and that he needed tests and would not be in for two days."  Because there was an allegation that the company already knew about his heart problems, the court denied the employer's motion for summary judgment.  The phone call, if there was pre-existing knowledge, was sufficient notice and the employer was obliged to inquire about details in order to determine whether FMLA leave was in order.