Make sure return-to-work requirements are reasonable

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

When employees return from leave for an FMLA-covered illness or ADA-related disability, you naturally want to make sure they're ready to resume work. After all, if problems linger, you may want to adjust accommodations or make other arrangements that prevent future absences or injuries. But make sure you don't throw up so many roadblocks to that return that it looks like retaliation for taking leave.

First, obtain a medical clearance from the employee's health care provider that spells out whether he or she is fully recovered or needs a light-duty modification. Next, obtain clarification of any restrictions. Don't, however, insist on multiple evaluations or expert referrals unless absolutely necessary.

Recent case: Bus driver Charles Stevens requested a month of FMLA leave to deal with chronic Hepatitis C complications. He returned with a doctor's note saying he could resume driving without restrictions.

But the bus company demanded Stevens fill out a return-to-work form that detailed his treatment and asked if he had any other physical or mental conditions. Stevens checked "yes" because he and his wife had undergone marital counseling.

That "yes" triggered numerous requests for more certifications. The company rejected each one because a counselor (not a board-certified psychiatrist) filled them out. Finally, the bus company demanded a psychiatric evaluation, saying Stevens couldn't return to work until he complied.

He sued, alleging retaliation for taking FMLA leave. The court ordered a trial based on the roadblocks the bus company put in place. (Stevens v. Peter Pan Bus Lines, No. 3:03CV1948, DC CT, 2005)

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