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Simply Being Open With Your Employer About Your Mental Health Condition May Satisfy FMLA’s “Notice” Requirement

Jessica Ellis

On September 24, 2004, in Tambash v. St. Bonaventure, a New York District Court held that an employer is on notice that leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) may be needed where the employer is aware of its employees’ mental health condition.  While this case is not new, it is worth looking back at.  Tambash ensures that employers who know of their employees need for leave are not off the hook.

In Tambash, Plaintiff Terrence N. Tambash accepted a position by St. Bonaventure University (the “University”) as a security personnel and rose to Director of Security Services.  Ten years later, Mr. Tambash began to experience depression and anxiety.  Due to the significant decline of his mental health, Mr. Tambash requested a one-month vacation to deal with his stress and depression and notified his supervisor that he would need to take a medical leave for mental health reasons after returning from vacation.  Mr. Tambash was an FMLA-eligible employee.  Unfortunately, while on vacation, Mr. Tambash received a letter stating that the University had terminated his employment due to unsatisfactory work performance, neglecting his duties, and incompetence.  Mr. Tambash sued, alleging that the University had interfered with his right to take leave under the FMLA.

On summary judgment, the University argued that Mr. Tambash’s FMLA claim must be dismissed on the grounds that Mr. Tambash failed to provide adequate notice of his need for FMLA leave.  Before Mr. Tambash left for vacation, Mr. Tambash only told Mr. Solan that, “I probably need extended time after the vacation to deal with the problems.”  On another day, Mr. Tambash informed Mr. Solan that he could no longer work due to his mental anguish and told three St. Bonaventure employees that he would resign.  Later that day, however, Mr. Tambash called back to state that he wanted to take sick leave.  At no point did Mr. Tambash specifically ask for FMLA leave.  The supervisor, however, was aware that Mr. Tambash was being treated for anxiety and depression and that Mr. Tambash took time off work before his vacation due to emotional distress.

The Court followed the applicable FMLA regulation that “an employee need not invoke the FMLA by name in order to put an employer on notice” that FMLA leave is needed and denied the University’s motion.  “Under the FMLA, the employer’s duties are triggered when the employer has enough information to put the employer on notice that the employee may be in need of FMLA leave,” the court stated  The court foundthat, “although Tambash’s testimony reflects that his request for a medical leave of absence was somewhat equivocal, his employer was aware that such leave may be required.”

This case is particularly encouraging for employees because it means that any employee struggling with a mental health condition can rely on the FMLA for short-term leave.  At The Harman Firm, LLP, we support employees who have suffered or are suffering with a mental health condition.  If you believe that your employer wrongfully terminated you or interfered with your rights under the FMLA, contact The Harman Firm.

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