Tell supervisors: Brief contact is OK, but never badger employee out on FMLA leave

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Sometimes, you have no choice but to contact an employee during FMLA leave—for example, if someone can’t find a file or needs a password to access records. Receiv­­ing and returning such a call is simply professional courtesy, and it’s allowed under the law.

But don’t let supervisors make unreasonable demands or insist that the employee actually work. That may constitute interference with the employee’s right to take FMLA leave.

Recent case: Lorri Zahler was a commissioned salesperson who dealt directly with bars and restaurants that purchased liquor from her employer. When her father became ill, she requested and got FMLA leave to care for him while he was hospitalized.

One day when Zahler was sitting with her father in his hospital room, she received a demanding series of phone calls from her supervisor. The supervisor threatened to take Zahler off an account if she didn’t immediately prepare and submit a report. Zahler became so upset she, too, had to be hospitalized.

Zahler sued, alleging interference with her right to take FMLA leave.

The court said the case could go to trial. It reasoned that the phone calls Zahler received while at her father’s bedside were not mere courtesy calls asking for information or other essentials like a file. Instead, they were a demand to do work, accompanied by a concrete threat. (Zahler v. Empire Merchants, No. 11-CV-3163, ED NY, 2012)

Advice: Keep any contact short and specific, and apologize for the disruption.

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