As the Seventh Circuit in Righi v. SMC Corporation of America noted, it generally does not take much for an employee to preserve his rights under the FMLA; he must simply provide enough information "to place the employer on notice of a probable basis for FMLA leave."
When Robert Righi abruptly left a mandatory training seminar to care for his ill mother, however, he only sent an e-mail that said that he needed "the next couple days off" to arrange for his mother’s care and that he had vacation time available or "could apply for the family care act, which I do not want to do at this time." Mr. Righi’s manager attempted to call him on his cell phone several times over the next week or so to clarify his request for leave, but Mr. Righi had turned off his phone. His manager also left two messages with his roommate. It wasn’t until the ninth day after taking his leave that Mr. Righi called in. At that point, however, his manager called him into the office and fired him the next day.
When an employee fails to give his employer proper notice of the need for FMLA leave, the employer has no duty to provide it. Stated otherwise, an employee’s failure to comply with the FMLA’s notice requirements precludes a claim that the employer interfered with his rights under the FMLA because he failed to fulfill his obligations in order to be protected. While not sufficiently clear to trigger SMC’s obligation to provide written FMLA materials and certification forms to Righi, his email did trigger SMC’s obligation to make further inquiry as to whether he intended to designate his leave as FMLA. The Seventh Circuit held that SMC met that obligation by making multiple phone calls to him and that Righi’s failure to respond "doom[ed] his FMLA claim because he not only failed to designate his leave as FMLA, but he also failed to give SMC any indication as to when he would be returning to work."