Just in case you needed a reminder—managers and company-owners – your words carry weight!

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, was recently accused of chastising an employee for missing a work event to attend the birth of his child. Musk denies the allegation and claims that he did not tell “a guy to miss his child’s birth just to attend a company meeting.” But even if he did not use those words, it is not hard to imagine a stressed and distracted manager missing the forest for the trees and uttering a similar statement.

Putting aside the morale-killing potential of this type of comment, there might be legal implications to the company and the supervisor. As a reminder, the federal Family Medical Leave Act “FMLA”  covers employers that have fifty or more employees within a 75 mile radius, and protects employees who need to take leave for certain qualifying personal and/or familial events such as child birth and adoption.

Like most statutes aimed at protecting workers’ rights, an employee seeking FMLA-qualifying leave is not required to use magic words or phrases.  Instead, the employee need only provide the employer information sufficient to put the employer on notice that the employee needs FMLA-protected leave.  Telling the employer that an employee is going to have a baby probably triggers the employer’s obligation to determine if FMLA leave is appropriate. If the employer denies FMLA leave, retaliates against the employee for requesting and/or taking FMLA leave, or takes any other steps to interfere with the employee’s ability to take FMLA leave, the employee may have a valid lawsuit against the company and maybe even against the manager in her/his individual capacity.

The bottom line: train your supervisors to think before they speak!