Company is sued for ‘pressuring’ employee who was on medical leave

company-sued-for-pressuring-employee-on-medical-leaveA company can be sued if it “pressures” an employee who is on medical leave by repeatedly calling to find out when the employee plans to return to work.

That’s the message of a new case from a federal court in Arkansas.

In that case, a woman took leave from her housekeeping job at a hospital to recover from back surgery. She claimed that while she was out, her immediate supervisor called her every week to ask when she was coming back. In one conversation, she asked if her job was in jeopardy, and the supervisor responded by telling her that she should return as soon as she could.

The court said that the employer could be sued under the Family and Medical Leave Act if its repeated phone calls had a “chilling” effect on the employee’s ability to exercise her rights.

This is a tough situation, because employers have to plan to get work done and need to know when employees will return, and employees are also required to return to work as soon as they no longer need time off for a legitimate reason. In general, both sides should be very careful how they communicate with each other over the extent of medical leave.

Medicare guidelines say that it should take no more than 24 to 48 hours of observation to decide whether a patient should be admitted, but in reality hospitals can keep patients under observation for much longer.

The consequence is that if a patient moves to a nursing home, and later discovers that he or she wasn’t formally admitted to the hospital for three days, the patient must pick up the tab for the entire nursing home stay.

Medicare doesn’t require that patients be notified as to whether and when they have officially been admitted - so it’s a very good idea to ask. If you haven’t been admitted, and if a nursing home stay is likely, you should discuss this with your doctor.