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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Phone etiquettes – (not) returning a call and its legal implications.

When things go wrong, inevitably technology is blamed.. now some are cursing Cell phones – actually the issue is never with the equipment.  It is yet another innovation – another invention just as we had electric bulb, pressure cookers, motor car and more.. each of them brought alongside innumerable benefits to the society.  It is the individual who is not putting to proper use to be blamed.

Landlines provided identity of the place – Mobile phones are those of the individuals. Whatever they are, courteous handling is most important – you visualize the face. There are simple etiquettes that can deescalate the avoidable tension.  Call people only after say 0730 in the morning and do not call after say 1000 pm in the night.  Try to avoid their meal times; enquire whether they are driving or at work and whether in a position to talk when you call.  – and if you dial a number wrongly, have the courtesy to say I’m sorry !  Always give your name when the call is picked up !; express yourself clearly and concisely.  When you end the call, do is pleasantly, never slam the receiver down or cut the call abruptly.

Something more which can think of practicing is not taking a personal mobile call during a business meeting; keeping a little away from others when talking; not talking in public places; not having annoying ringtones.

---  there is something more important than the above.  ‘Always return the call’………  if for any reason, you are not in a position to take the call, or if you say that ‘you will call back’ – do call them back in a reasonable time or at the next appropriate moment.  Many a times, the non-actions also cost.  They can create chronic sub-conscious tension, sense of annoyance, resentment and leave bitterness.   Never confuse returning a call with having answers.  Call back even if you can only say ‘no’ to what the other person presumably could be asking…  this not getting a call returned is ‘no personal lamentation’ but a potential one which can harm even the Employer !!
All of us know that there is maternity benefits to female employees as provided for in the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 which extends to the whole of India.  Under the Act, one is entitled to maternity benefits at the rate of your average daily wage for the period of your absence, for a maximum period of 12 weeks (6 weeks before delivery and 6 weeks after).   This can be claimed only when one has worked at least 80 days for the employer in the last 12 months.

A similar enactment in US is ‘The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)’  -   federal law requiring covered employers to provide employees job-protected unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.  This is not restricted to maternity alone but includes personal or family illness, military service, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption, or the foster care placment of a child. The FMLA is administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor.  The bill was a major part of President Bill Clinton's agenda in his first term.

FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.  Under FMLA,  employers must provide an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee; for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;        to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or    to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

The Companies are advised to maintain regular contact with an employee when he or she is on FMLA leave.  In a recent case in Pennsylvania, an employer found that an employer's failure to return an employee's telephone calls while she was on FMLA leave is evidence of retaliation.  In the case reported, the plaintiff was a registered nurse who had been approved  intermittent FMLA leave for an unusual medical condition; she took extended FMLA leave to undergo treatment for the condition. 

The employee claimed that, during her leave, she and her husband regularly provided her direct supervisor with leave updates.  However, her supervisor often failed to return the calls.  At a time when she was to join back, reportedly she contacted her supervisor to ask for a modest extension but (as it would happen in some cases) the supervisor did not take the call and failed to call back.     Later, the  Medical Center sent the employee a letter informing her that her employment had been terminated because she failed to return to work on the appointed date on which her FMLA leave allotment had been exhausted.

The affected person  filed suit claiming, among other things, that the Medical Center retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave.   In refusing to dismiss the employee's retaliation claim, the trial court found that the supervisor's failure to return phone calls was evidence of "an antagonistic attitude toward the employee, particularly where - as here - such refusal began after the employee initiated FMLA leave, and continued despite regular communications from the employee

Whether the action is justified could be debatable but lot could have been avoided, if only that call had been answered or at best returned to communicate in person…………………..

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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