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Jun 2014
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June 09, 2014

Court: Late Doctor’s Note Did Not Trigger Duty Under FMLA


The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled in April that a doctor’s note an employee submitted to an employer two days after being fired did not trigger obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The ruling was a victory for employers’ call-in procedures for reporting absences.

The case, Cundiff v. Lenawee Stamping Corp., stemmed from an employee (Nathan Cundiff) who was terminated for violating the employer’s call-in procedures for absences. Cundiff submitted a doctor’s note two days after his termination, but the Court ruled it didn’t trigger any obligation under the FMLA. There was no indication that the company had knowledge that Cundiff was absent for medical reasons until after his termination.

A Question of Timing

Hourly employees at Lenawee Stamping are unionized and represented by the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (the “UAW”). Under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement, manufacturing employees are required to inform the company of absences by calling in by telephone at least thirty minutes before the start of their shifts. The policy notes, however, that employees are not required to call in if on vacation, on an approved leave of absence, or a pending FMLA leave, so long as the leave was previously discussed with a member of the company’s human resources department. 

Cundiff was a member of the UAW.  In August 2012, he was scheduled for a regular five day work week. Cundiff was absent, however, on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 and Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. He was not scheduled to be on vacation, had not been approved for a leave of absence, and did not have pending FMLA leave that had been previously discussed with the company’s human resources department. Cundiff thus telephoned the call-in number to report his absence on both days. He stated that he needed eight hours of paid time off for each day, but did not indicate the reason for his absences.

Cundiff was also absent the next three days, Aug. 7-9, 2012. He did not telephone the company’s call-in number on any of those days. Consequently, in a letter dated Aug. 10, 2012, the company informed Cundiff that his employment was terminated because he violated the company’s no-call, no-show rule.

On Aug. 12, 2012—two days after his employment was terminated—Cundiff placed a “work excuse” doctor’s note in the human resources drop box. The note indicated that Cundiff was treated by a physician on Aug. 10, 2012, and that he was excused from work from Aug. 3 through Aug. 14.

Cundiff subsequently filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan alleging, in part, that the company violated the FMLA.

Victory for Absence Reporting

The Court dismissed Cundiff’s claim under the FMLA, ruling that the situation was a “simple termination case that Plaintiff has tried to transform into an FMLA action.” 

Noting the company’s requirement that employees call in any absence, the Court emphasized that Cundiff failed to follow this procedure for three consecutive days. Moreover, at the time of his termination, Cundiff failed to communicate to the company, in any manner, the reason for his absences. Instead, on the two days he did call in, he merely indicated that he was taking a paid absence, nothing more.

The Court concluded that there could be no genuine dispute of material fact that Cundiff was fired because he violated the company’s no-call no-show rule, as the company had a right to do under the terms of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.

The Court rejected Cundiff’s argument that his work excuse triggered a duty by the company under the FMLA to inquire further as to the basis of his requested leave. The Court held that there was no evidence that the company could have had any knowledge that Cundiff was absent for medical reasons until Aug. 12, 2012. The Court added that when the company “made its decision to terminate Plaintiff on August 10, 2012, there was nothing for Defendant to have an FMLA duty to further inquire about.” 

By the time Cundiff provided the work excuse note, on Aug. 12, 2012, he was no longer an employee. “His ‘notice’ of an FMLA-related serious health condition was too late,” the Court said in dismissing his FMLA claim.

Bottom line: An employee must follow the employer’s usual and customary call-in procedures for reporting an absence.

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