Giving Notice For FMLA Leave: What Does an Employee Need to Do?

By Eric B. Meyer

Among other things, the Family and Medical Leave Act affords an eligible employee up to 12 weeks of leave from work in 12-month period for a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.

We know that, to take covered leave, an employee doesn’t have to specifically reference the Family and Medical Leave Act or say “F-M-L-A.”

How, then, can an employee put the company on notice of the need for covered leave?

The key here is notice

  • Leaving work early. Tummy troubles.Yeah, no.
  • Hey boss, I’m not feeling well. I’m going to take the rest of the day off.” Will that do it? Nope.
  • “Hey John. Please tell the boss that I’m having chest pains and need to leave.” Yes, that might do it.

Indeed, the FMLA regulations provide that an employee may provide sufficient information for the company to understand that the employee needs leave for FMLA-qualifying reasons. Thus, as described in this recent federal decision (Greene v. YRC, Inc.), it is probably enough for an employee to tell his co-worker to tell a supervisor that the employee is having chest pains.

And sure, the FMLA regulations state that, when the need for FMLA leave is unforeseeable, “an employee must comply with the employer’s usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave, absent unusual circumstances.”

But, I assume that, in most cases, a person who leaves work early with chest pains is headed straight to the ER. And those would be the “unusual circumstances” that would excuse the employee from following the company’s normal notice procedures.

Does notice of FMLA need leave require a company to provide it?

No, not so fast. The next step is for the company to ask questions and find out whether the employee actually needs FMLA.

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The FMLA regulations detail the notice requirements that an employer should follow. And, even when the need for FMLA leave is unforeseeable, the company doesn’t have to take the employee’s word for it.

Instead, the company may (and should) insist that the employee complete and return a medical certification to support the need for FMLA.

For more information on the FMLA notice requirements for employers, check out this Labor Department resource.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (, which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.