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Worker on FMLA leave? Limited contact OK

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees out on FMLA leave are generally entitled to take that time off without interference from their employers. However, there are limits to that right. Sometimes, pressing business matters require a supervisor or other company representative get in touch with the employee.

As long as the contact is limited to true business needs and isn’t unduly restrictive or intrusive, the contact won’t cause you to lose an FMLA interference lawsuit.

Recent case: Helene worked mostly out of her home, but reported to a regional office in King of Prussia as needed. When her employer decided to reorganize and close that office, employees received job offers at other locations. Otherwise, they would be terminated.

Helene requested more time to consider her offer. She also asked for more money and refused to sign any paperwork until the details were worked out. Meanwhile, she began reporting to the new location.

Then, while the offer was still open and negotiations were under way, Helene got a note from her doctor advising her to take time off. She requested FMLA leave. Meanwhile, her supervisors tried to contact her several times, asking whether she intended to accept the new position and sign the agreement. When she didn’t respond, the company terminated her.

She sued, alleging interference with her right to be left alone while on FMLA leave. The calls and emails, she claimed, were disruptive. She argued that em­­ployers are not allowed to contact em­­ployees on FMLA leave for any reason.

The court disagreed. It said the contact was minimal but necessary for the company to determine her employment status. (O’Don­­nell v. Passport Health Com­­mu­­nications, No. 11-3231, ED PA, 2013)

Final note: Keep contacts brief and infrequent. Ask for the information you need and no more.

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