Usually, not returning a phone call is simply considered rude. Now a court ruling says it might also qualify as evidence of FMLA retaliation.
That’s the takeaway from a recent case in Pennsylvania, where an employee on FMLA leave found that communicating with her employer was pretty much a one-way street.
Kathleen Hofferica, a registered nurse, was granted intermittent FMLA leave for an inner ear disorder known as Meniere’s disease.
Hofferica then took extended leave to get treatment for the disorder. She said she regularly provided her supervisor with updates on her condition, but her manager often failed to return her calls.
Just before she was scheduled to return, Hofferica submitted a certification saying she could return to work but needed a one-week extension.
The manager never called her back. Instead, she received a letter saying she’d been fired for exceeding the agreed-to amount of FMLA leave.
Hofferica filed suit, claiming the hospital retaliated against her for taking leave.
The court agreed.
The manager’s “failure to return phone calls … certainly suggests an antagonistic attitude toward the employee, particularly where –as here — such refusal began after the employee initiated FMLA leave, and continued despite regular communications from the employee,” the judge wrote.
So the court tossed the company’s motion to dismiss the case. You know what that likely means: an expensive settlement or a long expensive trial.
Staying in contact
Nowadays, it’s generally considered best practice to maintain contact with employees out on leave — no matter what statute the leave might fall under.
It simply makes sense: Companies monitor employee progress in order to make sensible staffing plans, and the employee can be kept in the loop about what’s going on in the workplace.
Frankly, we’re hoping the manager gets called on the carpet for his/her conduct in this case. Whether the behavior happened through negligence or hostility toward the employee, continually ignoring phone messages certainly didn’t serve the company’s best interest.
The case is Hofferica v. St. Mary Medical Center. To read the full court decision, go here.