Sometimes it is unclear whether the employee is requesting leave that might be covered by the FMLA. This is not one of those situations. In Kobus v. The College of St. Scholastica, Inc., when the plaintiff told his supervisor in November 2006 that he would need to take time off for “stress and anxiety,” the supervisor gave him FMLA paperwork and told him he could apply for leave. The plaintiff put the papers in his drawer without reading them, and told his supervisor he “didn’t’ need any leave. Not just FMLA; any leave” because he thought he “could handle” matters.
A few weeks later, the employer disciplined plaintiff for excessive absenteeism. In January 2007, in response to the plaintiff’s comment that he would need “mental health leave,” the supervisor told him again about the FMLA and that he would need to have a doctor sign the paperwork. The employee responded that he did not have a doctor, and asked “is there any other way I can go.”
Later that afternoon, the supervisor told him “there was nothing available for [him],” and offered him two weeks’ severance pay if he resigned. The next day, he submitted a letter of resignation.
The Eight Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the College unlawfully denied him FMLA leave, holding that the plaintiff had “failed to adequately state an intent to take FMLA leave” and that “[w]hen an employee is made aware of the procedures necessary to obtain FMLA leave and chooses not to seek FMLA protection, the employer does not violate the FMLA by terminating the employee for excessive absenteeism.” The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the College’s FMLA policy was unclear because it said medical certification “may” be required, as opposed to “must be submitted.”
The Eighth Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s ADA claim as well, holding that the plaintiff did not request an accommodation, and rejecting his reliance on the EEOC’s ADA Enforcement Guidance that a request for time off because an employee is “depressed and stressed” is sufficient to put the employer on notice that the employee is requesting a reasonable accommodation. “None of our prior ADA notice cases cited the Enforcement Guidance as controlling. We apply the requirement in the regulations that an employee must “inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.”
This case illustrates the benefits of having supervisors trained to recognize potential requests for FMLA leave. The supervisor’s twice offering the plaintiff FMLA leave made rejecting the FMLA claim almost a foregone conclusion. The Court’s unwillingness to follow the EEOC Enforcement Guidance is a reminder that the Guidance does not have the force of law and does not expand the scope of the ADA itself.