In a case that reminds employers how not to handle medical leave, the court in Pagan-Colon v. Walgreens held that an employee who was terminated for job abandonment following a two-week absence from work stated a claim for FMLA retaliation.
The plaintiff was an assistant manager at Walgreens and left work abruptly due to chest pains and for treatment in an emergency room. The employee's wife informed the store manager that her husband was in the hospital and was unsure of when he could return to work. Following surgery and discharge from the hospital a week later, the employee delivered a medical certificate to the store manager that explained his absence and stated that he would need another week of leave (which the store manager claimed he never received, although the store's video surveillance footage showed otherwise). During the leave period, Walgreens then sent the employee a "48 hour notice" to contact the company or be subject to discipline. The employee did not timely respond to Walgreens because he received the letter well after the 48-hour deadline imposed by the letter, and he was terminated. When the employee presented medical documentation of the need for medical leave, Walgreens agreed to reconsider the termination, but eventually concluded that the employee was being dishonest about the communications regarding his leave and terminated him for that reason. After a jury trial, the jury found Walgreens unlawfully terminated the employee for exercising his FMLA rights and awarded damages to the employee.
This is a shining example of how to mishandle an employee's protected medical leave, and of the legal risk associated with hasty employment decisions in this context and having managers who are poorly trained on legal compliance.