The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Missouri in its jurisdiction, has ruled that a jury could conclude that a nurse satisfied the Family Medical Leave Act’s notice requirement by providing notice of her need for medical leave “as soon as was practicable” or, in the alternative, that she had been terminated for taking such leave when a serious health condition unexpectedly prevented her from fulfilling her work assignment.
The FMLA establishes that when leave is needed for an unforeseeable event, notice is required “as soon as practicable.” This ordinarily means at least verbal notification to the employer within one or two business days of when the need for leave becomes known to the employee.
In this case, the nurse exhibited signs of severe distress and visible manifestations of anxiety as a result of her work reassignment. The employer’s HR Director instructed the nurse to go home and attend to her health. By 9:30 the next morning, the nurse had provided her employer with a doctor’s note outlining the need for medical leave. That morning, the employer provided her with FMLA forms. Later in the same day, though, a member of the HR staff called and informed the nurse that she had been terminated the previous day for walking off the job.
The appeals court noted that an employer does not avoid liability under the FMLA by discharging an employee who takes leave in order to seek treatment for a condition that is later held to be covered by the FMLA. Rather, the employer who precipitously fires an employee, when the latter claims the benefits of leave under FMLA, bears the risk that the health condition in question later develops into a serious health condition, according to the Eighth Circuit.
The court further noted that the nurse’s employer “bore the risk” that its crying, shaking and generally distraught employee requiring approved—and, in fact, instructed—leave for the day would require additional FMLA leave for what was diagnosed mere hours later as a qualifying health condition.
As such, the Eighth Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment and instead held that the nurse could establish a prima facie case of interference with her FMLA rights.