Posted Feb 23, 2011 11:19 pm CST
Employers who pressure sick employees into returning to work early may face legal trouble.
In Arkansas, a legal dispute between a hospital and a former staff member is clarifying the line between asking about ill employees and pestering them to return to work, the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog says.
A U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas opinion dismissed Howard Memorial Hospital’s motion for summary judgment and concluded that a jury should be presented with the Family and Medical Leave Act interference claim made by a hospital employee who said she felt pressured to return to work during her medical leave.
In the case, Regina Terwilliger, a former Howard Memorial Hospital housekeeper, claims that her supervisor contacted her on a weekly basis to ask when she would return to work after undergoing back surgery. One pivotal phone conversation revolved around Terwilliger’s work status, with the housekeeper asking if she was at risk of losing her job while she was at home recovering. During that conversation, Terwilliger’s supervisor responded to her questions by saying that she should return to work “as soon as possible.” Terwilliger decided to cut her medical leave short and returned to work a week early. A few weeks after returning to work, the hospital fired Terwilliger, alleging she stole from another hospital employee. Terwilliger says she was fired for taking FMLA leave and asserts that the hospital deprived her of the act’s full benefits by pressuring her to return to work early.
“Interference includes discouraging an employee from using FMLA leave,” the district court wrote. Ohio Employer’s Law Blog notes the specific procedures the FMLA has in place to check on employees who are on leave.
Employment Law Matters: “Employer’s frequent calls to employee during FMLA may create interference with that leave”