Just because an employee makes a request for FMLA leave does not excuse an employee from complying with an employer's attendance policies. According to section 825.302(d) the FMLA's regulations:
An employer may require an employee to comply with the employer's usual and customary notice and procedural requirements for requesting leave, absent unusual circumstances. For example, an employer may require that written notice set forth the reasons for the requested leave, the anticipated duration of the leave, and the anticipated start of the leave. An employee also may be required by an employer's policy to contact a specific individual…. Where an employee does not comply with the employer's usual notice and procedural requirements, and no unusual circumstances justify the failure to comply, FMLA-protected leave may be delayed or denied.
This means that if you have a policy requiring employees to call-in if they are going to be late or absent, you can enforce that policy to the detriment of a non-compliant employee taking FLMA leave.
For example, in Ritenour v. Tenn. Dep't of Human Servs. (6th Cir. 8/29/12), the employee, who mistakenly believed she had been approved for intermittent FMLA to care for her mentally ill son, did not comply with employer's job abandonment or absenteeism policies, which required the employee to provide appropriate notice to avoid the accrual of unexcused absences. Because the employer terminated Ritenour because of her violation of the policy, her FMLA claims failed:
Even assuming that Ritenour was entitled to take FMLA leave and that TDHS interfered with Ritenour's FMLA rights, TDHS has provided a legitimate reason for Ritenour's dismissal that is not related to her request for FMLA leave—because Ritenour did not call in, in violation of the job abandonment policy….
Ritenour knew that the absenteeism policy required that absent employees call-in their absences in order to give their supervisor appropriate notice to make alternative work assignment arrangements. TDHS's job abandonment policy applies to all employees who are absent from duty without approval. The enforcement of that policy against Ritenour was not related to Ritenour's request for FMLA leave because the policy applies to employees who are absent from work without approval for any reason.
While it sometimes seems as if employees hold all the high cards in the FMLA poker game, as Ritenour makes clear, employers are within their rights to enforce neutral attendance policies against employees who fail to follow their rules. Now, go check your policies to make sure they contain these types of notice and call-in rules.