FMLA: Pregnancy an “unforeseeable circumstance?”

Courts debate FMLA and pregnancy: When should they draw the line?

Under the law, an employer must provide immediate family medical leave to a qualified employee if the employee claims unforeseeable circumstances.

But how do you define “unforeseeable?” In this case, an employee pushed the “unforeseeable circumstances” envelope too far, and the judge pushed back.

Facts of the case

Steve Aubuchon worked as a laborer for a manufacturing firm. Aubuchon’s wife was pregnant; her due date was August 19th. A few days past that date, when she still hadn’t given birth, Aubuchon telephoned his supervisor to say that his wife needed him to take leave under the FMLA for her pregnancy troubles. After missing nine shifts, he was fired for excessive absenteeism. He sued, claiming that

A court ruled in favor of the employer. Aubuchon’s wife had no complications; she’d had a normal pregnancy.

That means his request for FMLA pregnancy leave was not unforeseeable. In issuing its decision, the court noted that the company did a thorough job distributing and enforcing its absentee policy.

Aubuchon should have known he was breaking the rules.

To qualify for unforeseeable family medical leave, an employee must be able to prove that he lacked knowledge of “approximately when the leave would begin” or that “there is a medical emergency.”

Cite: Aubuchon v. Knauf Fiberglass, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Div., No. IP01-0392-C-D/F, 1/10/03.