The ABA Journal recently discussed an employment law case that could begin to distinguish the line between inquiring after an employee who is on medical leave and pressuring an employee to return to work early after taking a medical leave. A U.S. District Court in Arkansas ruled that a former employee of Howard Memorial Hospital, Regina Terwilliger, can bring her case against the hospital in court.
Terwilliger worked as a housekeeper at the hospital and went on medical leave to have back surgery. During her recovery on leave, she says that her supervisor called her every week to find out when she was coming back to work. According to the piece in the ABA Journal, the crucial conversation happened when Terwilliger asked whether she was in danger of losing her job if she didn't come back. The supervisor responded by telling her to return "as soon as possible" to work.
Terwilliger returned to work a week early. The Family and Medical Leave Act has specific procedures in place for employers for how to check in on employees on leave. Terwilliger claims that her employer violated the FMLA by interfering with her leave.
A few weeks after Terwilliger returned to her job early, she was fired by the hospital. The hospital says that they fired her because she stole from another employee. Terwilliger, on the other hand, claims in her lawsuit that the hospital fired her because she went on medical leave and denied her the full benefits entitled to her under the FMLA by pressuring her to come back early.