In Terwilliger v. Howard Memorial Hospital, No. 09-CV-4055 (W.D. Ark. Jan. 27, 2011), the Court found that weekly calls by the employee's immediate supervisor during the employee's approved, post-back surgery FMLA leave to determine when the employee would return to work interfered with the employee's FMLA rights by discouraging or "chilling" the use of FMLA leave. The employee claimed that, as a result of the calls, she felt pressured to return to work rather than remain on FMLA leave. The employer argued that, because the employee did not in fact return to work earlier, the employee failed to establish her FMLA interference claim. The Court disagreed with the employer, noting that "interference" includes not only refusing to authorize leave, "but discouraging an employee from using such leave." 29 CFR 825.220(b).
Comment: The decision correctly posits that "interference" includes discouraging an employee from exercising FMLA rights. The decision is curious in that it fails to address the employer's right to require an employee on FMLA leave to report periodically on the employee's status and intent to return to work, as permitted by 29 CFR 825.311(a).
From the decision, it does not appear that the employer argued the point. Of course, it is possible that an employer may abuse the right to require periodic status reports resulting in illegal interference. For example, if the employee was provided a certification that stated unequivocally that an employee needed a set period of leave and would return on a date certain, an employer that nevertheless requested periodic status reports on a daily or weekly basis may be found to have crossed the line into impermissible interference.
Unfortunately, it is not clear from the Terilliger decision why weekly status reports in that case interfered with the employee's FMLA rights. The decision simply fails to detail why it was unreasonable for the supervisor to require weekly status reports. If the duration of approved leave is unknown weekly status reports would appear to be reasonable.
The decision appears to be a product of the inferences favoring the nonmoving party (the employee) faced with the employer's motion for summary judgment. I do not believe it stands for the proposition that weekly status reports are a per se violation of the FMLA no matter what the factual circumstances. Rather, because periodic status reports are specifically permitted by the FMLA, there will be some situations - particularly where the duration of the employee's FMLA absence is unknown - where weekly status reports do not interfere with an employee's FMLA rights.