Requirements for Requesting FMLA Leave Cannot Be More Onerous than for Requesting Non-FMLA Leave

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, in Moore v. GPS Hospitality Partners IV, LLC, etc., has ruled that an employer's notice and procedural rules for requesting FMLA leave violated the law because it placed additional burdens on employees seeking FMLA leave.

Law. Employees who take FMLA leave may be required to comply with the employer's usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave. If the employee does not follow these requirements, the employer may delay or deny the FMLA-protected leave. However, the requirements for requesting FMLA leave cannot be any more onerous than the requirements for requesting non-FMLA leave.

Background. The plaintiff told her manager that she needed a week of FMLA leave to care for her mother, who had a life-threatening condition requiring immediate surgery. The employer's leave policy required employees to notify their supervisors and Human Resources to request FMLA leave. However, the employer's policy for other forms of leave only required employees to make requests to supervisors and did not have the additional requirement of notifying Human Resources.

The plaintiff's manager provided her with information regarding the person in Human Resources to contact when requesting FMLA leave. The plaintiff responded by telling her manager that she was unclear about what to do with this information, and the employer did not offer any further assistance to her. The plaintiff was later terminated after she took the requested time off to care for her mother. In response, the plaintiff sued the employer in federal district court claiming that it interfered with her exercising FMLA rights.

District Court. At trial, the plaintiff alleged that her former employer interfered with her FMLA rights and retaliated against her for exercising those rights. The employer argued that the plaintiff failed to follow the "usual and customary notice and procedural requirements" for requesting FMLA leave. In particular, the employer argued that while the employee had repeatedly contacted her manager and district manager to request leave, she failed to contact Human Resources, as was required by the employer's FMLA policy.

In reviewing the matter, the district court held that the requirement that employees must follow "usual and customary notice and procedural requirements" to obtain FMLA leave does not permit employers to deny leave based on a failure to comply with more stringent notice requirements applicable only to FMLA requests. In the instant case, the district court observed that because the employer did not require its employees to contact Human Resources for any absence other than FMLA, it could not properly refuse an employee's FMLA leave request for failure to contact Human Resources. Accordingly, the district court found that the employer was liable under the FMLA for interfering with the plaintiff's right to take leave.