4th Circuit Allows FMLA Claims to Proceed Based on Worker’s Leave Notices Sent Via Facebook Messenger

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has given the green light for an assembly line worker’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claim to proceed despite using Facebook Messenger to communicate his notice of leave to his employer. The case is Roberts v. Gestamp West Virginia LLC, 4th Cir., No. 20-2202 (Aug. 15, 2022).

Roberts worked on an assembly line at Gestamp, a West Virginia auto parts manufacturer. Gestamp maintains an attendance policy that requires workers to contact their group leader by using a call-in line at least 30 minutes before the start of their shifts if they will be late or absent. Failure to call in according to the policy for three consecutive shifts results in termination of employment. 

In June 2019, Roberts had an emergency appendectomy and, while at the hospital, sent his group leader notice of the situation via Facebook Messenger. Before this incident, Roberts and his group leader had used the app to communicate about his absence due to an unrelated medical issue. Roberts continued to correspond with his group leader using the app after his surgery and advised him that he would be off for two weeks. He also delivered a doctor’s note to the Gestamp facility. 

Roberts experienced an infection that delayed his return to work, which he both communicated to his group leader via Messenger and a doctor’s notice that he delivered to Gestamp. After returning to work, he worked for four days before becoming ill again. He spoke to his group leader and left work early. Roberts was readmitted to the hospital with an infection, which he again communicated to the group leader via Messenger. The group leader reported Roberts’ absence to HR without explaining why he had missed work, and HR terminated his employment for job abandonment. 

Roberts sued Gestamp for FMLA interference, retaliation, and wrongful discharge under state law. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Gestamp, finding that Roberts failed to use the call-in line specified by Gestamp to report absences. The court based its decision on the fact that FMLA regulations allow employers to specify usual and customary notice requirements for requesting leave, such as a call-in number. Roberts appealed to the 4th Circuit. 

The 4th Circuit overturned the lower court’s decision, finding that the employer’s usual and customary notice requirements are not limited to its written policies. Instead, the court must also consider how the employer allows employees to ask for leave in practice. As a result, even though the worker gave notice of his medical leave via Facebook Messenger rather than by using the employer’s official call-in line, the employer’s history of corresponding with the worker via Messenger concerning his medical leave validated his notice under the FMLA. 

HBL has experience in all areas of benefits and employment law, offering a comprehensive solution to all your business benefits and HR/employment needs. We help ensure you are in compliance with the complex requirements of ERISA and the IRS code, as well as those laws that impact you and your employees. Together, we reduce your exposure to potential legal or financial penalties. Learn more by calling 470-571-1007.

The following two tabs change content below.

Hall Benefits Law, LLC

HBL offers employers comprehensive legal guidance on benefits in mergers and acquisitions, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), executive compensation, health and welfare benefits, healthcare reform, and retirement plans. We counsel a wide spectrum of clients including small, mid-sized, and large companies, 401(k) investment advisors, health insurance brokers, accountants, attorneys, and HR consultants, just to name a few. HBL is passionate about advising clients, and we are dedicated to our mission: to provide comprehensive, personalized, and practical ERISA and benefits legal solutions that exceed client expectations.

Latest posts by Hall Benefits Law, LLC (see all)