The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects an employee's right to take a leave of absence from work for an illness, to bond with a newborn child, to care for a sick or injured family member, to spend time with a spouse before being called up for active military duty and related purposes (see "FMLA Leave Law: In-Depth"). But to qualify for leave under the FMLA, notice must be given to employers in a reasonable manner. FMLA notice requirements for employees vary for different circumstances, but there are some general guidelines.
FMLA Notice: Foreseeable Absence
An employee must provide 30 days notice if the need for FMLA leave is foreseeable, such as the expected birth of a child or a planned medical treatment. But this notice requirement is not set in stone; for example, a child may be born prematurely or a medical treatment may be moved up by a physician. Therefore, the law requires that employees provide notice "as soon as practicable" for expected absences, including military family leave. Whether or not an employee's notice was given "as soon as practicable" depends on the individual facts and circumstances surrounding the FMLA request.
FMLA Notice: Unforeseeable Absence
Sometimes employees require FMLA leave at a moment's notice, with little or no opportunity to provide advance notice. Federal law only requires that employees give their employers reasonable notice, or "as soon as practicable" given the facts and circumstances of the case.
For example: Your elderly mother has broken her hip and needs your immediate assistance, which means you'll have to catch a flight the next morning. Leaving a message with your employer informing them of your impending leave might be short notice, but it's certainly "as soon as practicable" within the meaning of the law.
Information Required for FMLA Notice
It is not necessary for employees requesting FMLA leave to explicitly state their rights under the federal law, nor must they mention FMLA by name. However, employees are required to provide employers with "sufficient information" that would help an employer understand that it is indeed FMLA-protected leave. Employees also must tell employers when they anticipate the need for leave and its expected duration.
"Sufficient information," according to additional FMLA guidance, may include any of the following:
Last, but not least, in some circumstances, some employers may request that employees provide certifications of their need for leave. In short, these are forms filled out by health care providers which certify that the leave being requested is for a qualifying reason under the FMLA, and provides additional supporting information to employers.
FMLA Notice and Normal Call-In Procedures
Even if an employee's reason for requesting FMLA leave is valid, an employer's normal procedures for calling in sick must be followed, unless circumstances prevent an employee from doing so (for example, being knocked unconscious in a serious accident). As FMLA regulations state, failure to follow an employer's normal call-in procedures may result in the delay or even denial of an FMLA request.
Get Legal Help Understanding FMLA Notice Requirements
As an employee, it's important to understand your rights -- especially if you're dealing with an FMLA matter. If you have questions about your responsibilities or rights as an employee, it's important that you speak with a knowledgeable employment law attorney in your area.
Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your rights are protected.