HR Minute

Recent Guidelines in Handling FMLA Claims

Your employee takes twelve weeks of FMLA, but cannot return when her leave expires. Her doctor certifies that she needs an additional 30 days of recuperation, but she claims she can do light-duty work during that 30 day period. What are you required to do?

This situation recently occurred in a case that went to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court issued a number of interesting guidelines. First, an employee returning from leave who cannot perform the essential functions of her job due to a physical condition need not be reinstated or restored to another position. The FMLA only requires that the job be held available until the end of the FMLA leave. (Note that the medical condition may also qualify as a disability under the ADA, which may impact the evaluation of additional leave.)

Second, an employer may lawfully require a fitness for duty certification upon the employee returning to work. Under the FMLA, an employee who presents a physician’s certification indicating that he needs another 30 days of leave has not submitted a fitness for duty certification allowing him to return to his job or maintain his employment.

Third, a report from a physician indicating that the employee cannot perform her former duties, but can perform light duty work, may require reinstatement. While an employer is not required to find a light-duty position, if the employer routinely provides light-duty jobs, it may have to offer one to the returning employee.

Finally, an employer should be cautious about the reasons it provides to an employee for termination. In this case, because the employer provided one reason for the termination to the employee, but subsequently relied on that reason and others, the Court found possible pretext. Therefore, in completing a termination, an employer should be careful to describe the various grounds for the termination.

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