Most California workers are protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows leave from work for personal medical reasons or to take care of family members with medical needs. Though the law provides for medical leave for workers and protects them from retaliatory action by employers when they take leave, employers do have certain rights under the law, including the right to require that certain procedures be followed by employees when taking or requesting FMLA leave.

The FMLA allows intermittent medical leave, which could be used, for example, when someone has a family member who does not need medical care everyday but may need it occasionally, requiring the employee to miss work on those occasions. A court case in Tennessee focused on this issue when an employee missed work for several days to care for her child but had not followed her employer’s policy of calling in to report that she would absent from work on those days.

The FMLA regulations state that when an employee takes leave from work, he or she must comply with the employer’s policy on notifying it of the absence unless there exists an ‘unusual circumstance” that prevents the employee from doing so. In the Tennessee case, the employee was disciplined for her failure to call in advance of her absences for several days. The court determined that there was no unusual circumstance that prevented her from making these calls, and therefore, her employer was not in violation of FMLA when disciplining the her for failure to call in her absences.

FMLA does protect workers from retaliatory actions by employers after taking time off from work for medical reasons; however, as the case in Tennessee shows, not every disciplinary action is necessarily retaliatory and a violation of the law. Before taking medical leave, employees could benefit from learning from an attorney about their rights as well as their responsibilities under the act.