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Medication may limit employees’ FMLA reinstatement rights

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

The FMLA guarantees qualified employees who have a "serious health condition" up to 12 weeks off without pay per year. And they have the right to return to the same or a similar job.

But what happens if the employee tries to return to work but isn't quite recovered? In that case, you can turn the employee away if he or she can't perform the job's essential functions.

That scenario often plays out when the returning employee's job involves operating machinery or driving and the person must take medication. If the medication interferes with the ability to drive or safely use equipment, you can place the employee in another job or deny reinstatement entirely if no suitable job is available.

Recent case: UPS driver Randy Joostberns took FMLA leave for depression. When he returned, he was still taking medication with a warning label that said users should not operate heavy machinery. UPS put him to work at the customer counter instead of behind the wheel.

He filed an FMLA suit, claiming that amounted to denying him reinstatement. The court disagreed. Because he couldn't safely drive, he wasn't entitled to the same job back. (Joostberns v. UPS, No. 04-2370, 6th Cir., 2006)

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