The first case litigated by the Labor Department under the Family Medical Leave Act resulted in a favorable verdict for Midwest Plastic Engineering Inc. in Sturgis, Mich. The U.S. District Court of Western Michigan ruled that Midwest did not have to reinstate an employee discharged for excessive absenteeism because she did not inform the company she was taking leave under the FMLA.
Midwest discharged Lori Van Dosen in November 1993 for excessive, unexcused absences after Van Dosen, who was pregnant, missed four days of work when her two children became ill with chicken pox. Midwest said she failed to supply a doctor's verification of the illness.
The company prepared a written notice warning Van Dosen that she could be terminated for absenteeism. Van Dosen did not receive the notice because she called in sick the day her supervisor was to give her the letter.
Van Dosen subsequently missed eight days of work, which included an overnight hospital say, but she called in on only two of those days. She obtained a doctor's written excuse for her absenteeism for as many as 10 days.
On the eighth day however, Midwest left a message on Van Dosen's answering machine that she had been terminated.
The court determined that while Van Dosen's condition was serious enough to qualify for leave under the FMLA, regulations require that an employee ``provide at least verbal notice sufficient to make the employer aware that the employee needs FMLA-qualifying leave, and the anticipated timing and duration of the leave.''
The regulations also state that when the need for leave is not foreseeable, employees should notify their employers of the situation ``as soon as practicable.''
However, in another FMLA case, a U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned a lower court ruling, stating that a worker need not invoke the FMLA expressly to win leave.
Westlake Polymers Corp. of Houston terminated June Manuel in 1994 after she missed seven weeks of work at the company's Lake Charles, La., plant for an infected ingrown toenail.
Manuel sued Westlake claiming that her infected toe was covered by FMLA. A federal judge in Lake Charles rejected Manuel's bid earlier this year to be reinstated with back pay, ruling that she should have told Westlake about needing FMLA-protected leave.
David Malson, a lawyer for Midwest Plastic, said the Westlake ruling will have no bearing on his client because the Labor Department did not appeal.
David Hansen, Westlake's vice president for human resources, said Manuel's termination was a result of the company's normal procedures and was preceded by her history of absenteeism. The suit claiming that her leave should have been protected by the FMLA came ``late in the game'' after her firing.