Skip to Content

Where Tradition Meets the Future®

Understanding FMLA Leave and Attendance Policies

By: Scott Atwood, Esq.

FMLANavigating the complexities of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be challenging for employers, especially when it comes to ensuring compliance and managing employee expectations. The recent Eleventh Circuit decision in Tanner v. Stryker offers valuable lessons for Florida employers on handling FMLA leave requests effectively.

This case underscores the importance of clear policies, consistent application, and thorough documentation. By understanding the court’s findings and implementing best practices, employers can better support their employees while minimizing the risk of legal disputes.


Tristan Tanner, an employee of Stryker Corporation, sued his employer for interference and retaliation under the FMLA after being terminated. He had requested FMLA leave for the birth of his child. Still, his termination was based on accruing excessive unexcused absences before the birth of his child, which were not covered under FMLA.

The Eleventh Circuit upheld the summary judgment in favor of Stryker, stating that FMLA leave commences on the child’s actual birth date, not before. Since Tanner’s vacation time expired before the child was born, his termination was in line with company policy.

Takeaways for Employers

Understand FMLA Eligibility and Coverage

  • FMLA provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons, including the birth of a child. However, pre-birth leave is generally limited to specific circumstances, such as prenatal care or if the expectant mother is incapacitated due to pregnancy. 
  • Employers should ensure they understand and clearly communicate what constitutes FMLA-eligible leave. Misunderstandings can lead to disputes and potential legal issues.

Clear Communication and Documentation

  • Maintain clear communication with employees about their leave entitlements and the conditions under which they can take FMLA leave.
  • Document all communications regarding leave requests and approvals. In Tanner’s case, Stryker documented its policies and Tanner’s acknowledgment that his leave would start upon the birth of his child, which was crucial in the court’s decision.

Consistent Application of Attendance Policies

  • Apply attendance and leave policies consistently. Tanner was terminated after accruing eight occurrence points for unexcused absences before his FMLA leave officially started.
  • All FMLA matters need to take possible ADA coverage into account, as well as the new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which might require additional accommodations beyond the requirements of the FMLA. These laws cover employers with 15 or more employees, as opposed to the 50-employee minimum for the FMLA.
  • Ensure supervisors and HR personnel are aligned on how attendance policies are applied to avoid confusion and ensure fairness.

Provide Adequate Warnings and Follow Procedures

  • Follow your company’s disciplinary procedures consistently. Although Stryker had a point-based system for absences, the lack of warnings before termination was noted but did not alter the outcome due to clear communication and documentation.
  • If your policies include progressive discipline, ensure employees receive the appropriate warnings before taking adverse actions like termination.

Flexibility and Employee Support

  • Where possible, offer flexibility to support employees anticipating FMLA leave. This can include allowing the use of PTO or sick leave before FMLA leave starts, as was partially done in Tanner’s case.
  • Consider discretionary leave or other accommodations to bridge the gap if employees face unexpected delays or changes in their family situations.

Bottom Line

The Tanner v. Stryker case serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of clear policies and communication in managing employee leave. By taking proactive measures, Florida employers can better navigate the complexities of FMLA and protect their employees and businesses.

Employers needing assistance with FMLA matters may reach me at to schedule a consultation.

Privacy Notification

By using this website, you agree to use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively.