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When worker returns from FMLA leave, it’s OK to assign equivalent job at different location

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees who take FMLA leave are entitled to return to their job or to an equivalent one. If the FMLA absence necessitated hiring a replacement, there’s no obligation to remove or transfer the new hire—as long as the returning employee receives an equivalent position.

That position can even include a transfer to a different location, provided the job is equivalent and the change isn’t substantial. For employers with multiple locations (such as retailers), a move to another nearby store is entirely legal.

Recent case: Maria Myers managed a Winn-Dixie grocery store. She suffered from a rare condition, interstitial cystitis, which caused intermittent and severe bladder infections about once a month.

When Myers had an active infection, she experienced acute swelling. Her condition also caused constant discomfort, which was treated with pain killers.

During one severe episode, Myers took several months of FMLA leave. While she was out, Winn-Dixie hired a replacement manager. When Myers was cleared to return to work, she learned that her job had been filled, and that she would be transferred to another store about 25 miles away. The company had a long-standing policy that allowed management to routinely transfer managers to stores where they were most needed, within 25 miles of their previous assignment.

Myers refused the transfer and sued, alleging among other claims that she had been denied reinstatement to the same or an equivalent job.

Winn-Dixie argued that nothing had changed. Before going out on leave, company policy would have allowed her transfer as needed. After her leave, the same rule applied.

The court agreed with Winn-Dixie and concluded Myers had been restored to the same or an equivalent position. (Myers v. Winn-Dixie, No. 8:10-CV-1987, MD FL, 2012)

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