Emailing Employees on FMLA Leave

By Daniel Saeedi, Rachel Schaller

Jul. 30, 2018

Sonja Nowlin was a sales representative for Novo Nordisk Inc.

Nowlin took intermittent FMLA leave to care for her ailing father. While on leave, Nowlin received two emails from Novo requesting that she return damaged drug samples. Novo did not require Nowlin to respond while on leave.

Upon her return to work, Nowlin mailed the drug samples to Novo. Five months later, Novo fired Nowlin for failing to properly document her sales calls on days she was supposed to be working. Nowlin sued Novo under the FMLA, alleging Novo interfered with her right to FMLA leave and retaliated against her. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected Nowlin’s FMLA claim.

The court recognized that while multiple attempts by an employer to contact an employee on FMLA could constitute unlawful interference, two isolated emails did not rise to this level. The court also rejected Nowlin’s retaliation claim because she was fired for a well-documented, legitimate reason. Nowlin v. Novo Nordisk Inc., No. 17-5507, 2018 WL 1805141 (6th Cir. Feb. 28, 2018).

IMPACT: Employers should be wary of contacting employees on FMLA leave and demanding the completion of work tasks. Small, isolated communications that do not demand responses may not be illegal, but employers should do their best to refrain from making any work request.

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