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.