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Worker can’t return from FMLA leave? Beware demanding repayment of health benefits

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

It’s expensive to cover an absent employee’s health insurance premiums when he is on FMLA leave—especially if he has family coverage. How­­ever, the law requires employers to do so. Few employees could take leave without it.

What happens if the employee doesn’t return? In some cases, em­­ployers can demand reimbursement for the premiums it paid. That’s true except if the employee doesn’t come back because he or she is still sick or has to continue to care for a sick relative.

Recent case: Zane Holder worked as a corrections officer for the Illinois Department of Corrections. His wife suffered from a “chronic mood dis­order and substance abuse disorder” because of an opiate dependency. Holder applied for FMLA leave to help his wife with treatment. During that time off, the agency paid Holder’s health insurance premiums.

Once his FMLA leave was over, he applied for more time off, since his wife had not yet recovered fully. His leave was extended, but the state began recouping its insurance premium payments through wage garnishment.

Holder sued, alleging this was not legal.

The court agreed. While employees who don’t return to work for unrelated reasons following FMLA leave can be required to repay the premiums, that’s not the case if the failure to return is due to continuation of the medical condition that required leave in the first place. (Holder v. Illinois Depart­ment of Corrections, No. 09-CV-1082, SD IL, 2011)

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