Over the last 10 years I have seen a number of instances where Supervisors were made aware of an issue with an employee that they did not act on. The problem is that, when an employee tells their supervisor certain things, the Employer has technically been notified of that information. If that information is actionable – requiring you, the Employer, to do something – you are liable if you do not.
Examples of this are easy to find: An employee, over lunch tells his supervisor his divorce is final, or he has adopted a child, or that he hurt himself on the job. This is not anecdotal storytelling – the law holds that the employer has been officially notified. In the first two, Human Resources needs to know (COBRA, FMLA, and an enrollment period for the child on the employee benefits plans). In the third, an incident report needs to be completed and filed with HR in the event of workers compensation. It could also come into play with your employee leave policies and FMLA.
This is driven home by a recent decision in South Carolina District Court. Read the article here. Essentially, an employee decided he couldn’t make mandatory training because, at first, he was having countertops installed, and second, he needed to unwind. The employer denied him the time off, he didn’t show up, and they fired him.
However, when you read the article, a number of people in the firm were aware that he was “acting unusual”, a supervisor told HR that he mentioned feeling stressed and wanted counseling, and other medical issues. Even though the employee never mentioned FMLA, the court ruled that the case can go to trial, suggesting that he had given his employer enough notice of his intent to take FMLA leave.