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FMLA may require reinstatement, even with work restrictions

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in FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources

The FMLA lets qualified employees take up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave each year if suffering from a serious illness. The law also entitles them to reinstatement to the same or an equivalent job when they return.

But what if the employee has a lingering work restriction, such as a temporary lifting limit? Then the employer has to determine if the returning employee can meet the job’s essential functions with the restriction in place.

Refer to the essential functions listed in the job description to measure whether the restriction interferes with those essential functions. If it doesn’t, you must reinstate the employee.

Recent case: Mary Ellen Greenlee, a nursing coordinator, was injured at work, took a few weeks FMLA leave, then sought to return.

Her doctor temporarily restricted the amount that she could lift. But Greenlee’s supervisor said she wouldn’t let Greenlee return if she had the lifting restriction. When Greenlee’s 12 weeks of FMLA leave expired, she still had the restriction and was fired.

She sued, alleging that the FMLA guaranteed her job back if she could perform the essential functions.

The judge agreed that whether she could perform the essential functions of her job should be left to a jury. The court also said the supervisor who wanted Greenlee gone could be held personally liable for violating the FMLA. (Greenlee v. Christus Spohn Health Systems, No. C-06-123, S.D. TX, 2007)  

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