Finding that the employer did not have a duty to inquire further into an employee’s resignation a day after her return from leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or to allow her to rescind her resignation, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati affirmed summary judgment for the employer. Miles v. Nashville Elec. Serv., No. 12-6028 (6th Cir. May 19, 2013) (unpublished). The Court held the employee’s resignation was not an indication that she was requesting additional leave.

Background

Bilqis Miles was hired by Nashville Electric Service (“NES”) in 2000 to work in its engineering department. In September 2008, Miles suffered a psychotic break at work and ran screaming from the building. In the fall of 2010, she took leave under the FMLA three times for hospitalizations related to mental health events. 

On April 11, 2011, Miles again sought FMLA leave after she suffered another psychotic break — acute psychosis including visual hallucinations, which required hospitalization. Miles submitted the FMLA paperwork and medical release to NES. She was released to return to work with no restrictions on May 5, 2011, and she returned to work as scheduled. However, after working half a day, she requested and received permission from her supervisor to leave early. The next morning, Miles called her supervisor and informed him that she was not coming back to work. When asked to clarify her statement, Miles said she was quitting her job at NES. Miles’s supervisor requested a resignation letter and the two agreed to meet at a nearby farmer’s market. Miles tendered to her supervisor a one-line resignation letter and turned in her company ID card. Three days later, after discussions with her family, Miles attempted to rescind her resignation, which was denied by NES.

FMLA Lawsuit

Miles filed a lawsuit alleging interference with her FMLA rights based upon the company’s failure to inquire further into her need for FMLA leave and its refusal to rescind her resignation.

The district court granted summary judgment to NES. It found NES had no duty to recognize that Miles may not have been fit to return to work on May 5, given that she provided a medical release. The district court also found that Miles’s resignation was voluntary, and that NES had no duty under the FMLA to allow Miles to rescind her voluntary resignation. Accordingly, the district court granted summary judgment to NES and dismissed Miles’s action. Miles appealed.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that, as a matter of a law, Miles’s claim that NES violated her FMLA rights by failing to determine whether she was requesting further FMLA leave when she resigned failed since she could not show NES violated any of its obligations under the FMLA. 

To invoke the protection of the FMLA, an employee must provide notice and a qualifying reason for requesting leave. See 29 CFR § 303(b). The critical test for substantially sufficient notice is whether the information the employee conveys to the employer is reasonably adequate to apprise the employer of the employee’s request to take leave for a serious health condition. See Brenneman v. MedCentral Health Sys., 366 F.3d 412 (6th Cir. 2004). 

Miles contended that she gave sufficient notice to NES to trigger its duty to inquire further when she told her supervisor that she could not come back to work after having left early the preceding day. Miles also contended her statements could be interpreted to mean that her return was premature, that she was not ready to return, or that she was questioning her own decision to return the previous day. 

The appellate court recognized that an employer’s knowledge of an employee’s prior medical history may be relevant to determining whether an employee gave adequate notice to invoke FMLA rights in a particular instance. However, in the case before the court, there is nothing that indicates NES had reason to interpret Miles’s statement that she was not coming back to work as an indication she was requesting leave for a serious health condition. As Miles provided a medical release that allowed her to return to work with no restrictions, NES had a duty to reinstate Miles, not second-guess her ability to return to work. It complied with this obligation. The Court found that Miles’s request to leave early on the day she returned to work was not so erratic or bizarre as to indicate a current psychosis or hallucinations, which would have apprised NES she was incapacitated and may need FMLA leave. 

Further, the Court found Miles’s statement that she was not coming back to work gave NES no indication she needed leave for a serious health condition. Thus, NES did not have a duty to inquire further as to whether Miles was requesting leave for a potentially FMLA qualifying reason, the Court concluded. 

The record showed that Miles’s resignation was voluntary. Therefore, after her May 6 resignation, she was no longer an employee of NES and no longer an eligible employee entitled to FMLA right and benefits, the Court ruled. Thus, even if NES had policy regarding rescission of voluntary resignations, a duty to follow that policy does not arise under the FMLA. The FMLA does not place a duty on an employer to permit rescission of an employee’s voluntary resignation. Therefore, the Court concluded Miles was not entitled to any relief in this case.

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Employers are reminded that they should ensure their supervisors and managers are adequately trained regarding FMLA protocols and procedures. Moreover, an employer must be proactive when employees request leave time to ascertain whether the request invokes a duty for the employer regarding FMLA rights and benefits. 

When an employee resigns and there is no reason to believe he or she really is asking for time off work under the FMLA or Americans with Disabilities Act, the employer is not expected to read the individual’s mind. The employer can confirm the resignation, in writing or electronically. If the employee has a change of heart and asks to rescind the resignation, consult with counsel.