Smart employers carefully trackand make sure employees know their rights. That includes warning employees when their leave is about to expire and explaining their options for returning or requesting additional time off.
By keeping employees informed and meticulously tracking all conversations, you make it harder for someone to successfully sue you.
Recent case: Margaret Nowell worked as the nursing director at Coastal Bend Surgery Center before takingleave to care for her husband while he underwent chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
A few weeks before her 12 weeks of protected leave were scheduled to expire, the HR director sent Nowell a detailed letter. It explained that her FMLA leave would expire on May 8 and that she was expected to return to work on May 11.
But the letter went further. It also explained that if Nowell felt she could not return on May 11, she should contact HR to discuss any “additional circumstances that may be relevant and that [she] may wish to bring” to the center’s attention.
HR followed up two weeks later with an e-mail to Nowell explaining she would be returning to her previous job as nursing director and added, “In the event you cannot return to work on May 11, then just let us know when you can return to work and we will sit down and figure out what positions are available.”
Nowell responded with an e-mail that tendered her resignation, effective immediately. Then she sued, alleging she had been forced to take FMLA leave and then was pushed out.
The court made quick work of her complaint. It told Nowell she had no possible case.
First, the center had Nowell’s original FMLA leave request, which clearly showed she was the one who asked for the protected leave. Second, it was clear from the letter and e-mail sent from HR that the center wanted to work with Nowell and encouraged her to discuss her return and other opportunities.
She could not summarily reject those offers and quit, expecting to sue. (Nowell v. Coastal Bend Surgery Center, No. C-10-205, SD TX, 2011)
- Dispense employee medical information only to those who truly need to know
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- Draw the line between 'tough talk' and harassment
- Make sure FMLA paperwork arrives promptly