Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Call me … maybe? 6th Circuit saves FMLA claim of employee who failed to follow employer's call-in rules.

Latrice Crispell, a 23-year employee of FCA working as a floater on its truck assembly line, suffered from major depression and anxiety, which qualified her for intermittent leave under the FMLA. FCA had a strict 30-minute call-in rule, requiring employees to notify their supervisors of any absence at least 30 minutes before their shift, or later with a statement explaining the missed call-in.

Crispell struggled to comply with that rule during severe flare-ups of her condition, which she argued made it impossible for her to call in on time and made her absent or late 15 times during the final three months of her employment. Despite submitting explanations and a doctor's note about how her illness made it impossible for her to comply with the 30-minute rule during flare-ups, FCA disciplined and ultimately terminated her.

Despite the employee failing to meet FCA's call-in requirements for her intermittent leave, the 6th Circuit reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the employer. 

In its ruling, the court highlighted two key reasons why it excused Crispell's failure to comply with FCA's call-in rule:

1. FMLA | Unusual Circumstances and Adequate Notice: The court found that Crispell's severe medical flare-ups constituted unusual circumstances under 29 C.F.R. § 825.303(c), which can excuse an employee from the usual notice requirements for unforeseeable FMLA leave. Although Crispell did not call in 30 minutes before her shift, she provided detailed letters and a doctor's statement explaining her medical condition and its impact on her ability to meet the call-in requirement. The court determined that this information should have been sufficient for FCA to understand and excuse her tardiness under the FMLA.

2. ADA | Reasonable Accommodation: The court noted that FCA was fully aware of Crispell's medical condition and history of FMLA leave. This familiarity should have prompted FCA to consider her situation as a need for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and to engage in the interactive process. Exempting Crispell from the call-in rule during severe flare-ups was a reasonable accommodation. FCA's rigid enforcement of the rule, without considering her medical history or documentation violated the ADA.

This decision underscores the importance of flexibility and understanding in enforcing workplace policies when dealing with employees' known serious medical conditions. It's crucial to engage in interactive processes to explore reasonable accommodations, as courts will scrutinize and hold employers accountable for rigidly applying policies without considering employees' medical needs.