The termination of an employee who, after leaving work to deal with his mother’s medical emergency, failed to respond to his supervisor’s fifteen calls over the next eight days or otherwise contact the company, did not violate the FMLA, the Seventh Circuit held recently.
Affirming summary judgment for the employer in Righi v. SMC Corporation of America, the court held that plaintiff’s failure to respond to these calls “dooms” his FMLA claim, noting that the FMLA does not authorize employees to “keep their employers in the dark about when they will return” from leave.
The day following his sudden departure, the plaintiff emailed his supervisor that he needed “the next couple of days off” to make arrangements for his mother’s care. He also noted that “I do have the vacation time, or I could apply for the family care act, which I do not want to do at this time.”
Noting that “it does not take much for an employee to invoke his FMLA rights,” the court said that the email was sufficient to alert his employer that the plaintiff might need FMLA leave but because the request was equivocal, the employer had a duty “to make further inquiry…using informal means” to determine whether the plaintiff was seeking FMLA leave. The supervisor’s repeated calls satisfied the employer’s duty, according to the court.
The court noted that the plaintiff had also failed to comply with his employer’s internal leave policies and procedures concerning notice. This failure is another reason to dismiss plaintiff’s FMLA claim, according to the court.