Home » Blog » FMLA-The 5th Circuit Steps Back from the Edge

On August 2, 2010, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Saenz v. Harlingen Medical Center, took a reasonable and fair minded approach to the FMLA notice of serious medical condition duties of an employee.  Before the 2009 revisions to the FMLA, an employee was required to give his employer notice of the need for unforseen medical leave “as soon as practicable”, which ordinarily means within two business days of when the need for leave becomes known to the employee (this could be within two days after the leave had been taken if earlier advance notice was not practicable).  However, the Fifth Circuit had ruled in Greenwell v. State Farm Auto Ins. Co., 486 F3d 154 (2007), that the employee could be held to the employer’s known stricter standards of notice.   In the Saenz case, the Court distinguished the Greenwell case’s facts and held that the case did not control Saenz.  The Saenz case holds that, ordinarily, if the employer receives proper timely notice, according to the FMLA, the FMLA standards will trump an employer’s notice  requirements that are stricter than the FMLA regulations, even when the employee is aware of the stricter notice requirements.  In Saenz, the employer had actual notice of the employee’s serious condition but still chose to apply its stricter requirement and terminate the employee.  Remarkably, the Fifth Circuit stepped back from the prior pro-employer ruling and decided to grant  justice to a person, who had followed the law but not the strict standards of the employer.