FMLA-Beyond Block Leave

FMLA.BlogMost managers understand the concept of block leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). What is frequently confusing and harder to understand and manage is the employee who needs intermittent leave, either following a block of leave time or as the only leave taken.

The U.S. Department of Labor summarizes this nicely in their booklet Family and Medical Leave Act Employee Guide, by saying:

You can take FMLA leave as either a single block of time (for example, three weeks of leave for surgery and recovery) or in multiple, smaller blocks of time if medically necessary (for example, occasional absences due to diabetes). You can also take leave on a part-time basis if medically necessary (for example, if after surgery you are able to return to work only four hours a day or three days a week for a period of time). If you need multiple periods of leave for planned medical treatment such as physical therapy appointments, you must try to schedule the treatment at a time that minimizes the disruption to your employer.

One company learned about intermittent leave and its restrictions the hard way. In Baier v. Rohr-Mont Motors, Inc. (N. D. Ill. 2014), an auto dealership denied a sales manager who was recovering from open heart surgery a reduced work schedule and then fired him for an allegedly false reason—using profanity with a new salesperson.

According to Baier, he returned from FMLA leave wearing a visible heart pack containing a defibrillator required by his doctors. His doctors also restricted the number of hours he could work, which he told his superiors. Allegedly, management told Baier it was not required to give him modified hours, and asked him how long it would take him to be back at 100 percent. One supervisor also purportedly stated, “Don’t die at the desk or I am going to drag you outside and throw you in the ditch next to the road.”

The court concluded that the dealership did not provide Baier the required notice under the FMLA, and did not follow up with him to obtain additional information concerning his reduced schedule and restrictions.

In managing employee absences, it is important for managers to coordinate closely with Human Resources and to understand the importance of working with the employee on his or her restrictions, including modified hours. Even if the employee has exhausted FMLA leave, additional leave time off may be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. All employees should be reminded that joking about or discussing an employee’s medical condition is never appropriate.