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When FMLA and ADA could be factors, consider both laws before denying return to work

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

An employee who takes FMLA leave is entitled to return to his job (or an equivalent one) when his leave is up if he can perform that job without any accommodation. However, if the employee is disabled under the ADA, he may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under that law.

Be sure to consider both laws before terminating the employee.

Recent case: Alan Macfarlan worked as a maintenance director for almost two decades until he had a stroke. His medical condition meant he had to take FMLA leave to recover. When his 12 weeks were up, his doctor said he could return to work part time, but with lifting restrictions.

The employer didn’t have any part-time positions, and informed Macfarlan so. Macfarlan then persuaded his doctors to allow full-time work, though the lifting restrictions stood.

The employer still refused to allow Macfarlan back, reasoning that under the FMLA, employees must be able to perform all the essential functions of a job without accommodation. Otherwise, they aren’t eligible for reinstatement. It then discharged Macfarlan.

He sued, alleging FMLA and ADA violations.

The court dismissed both claims. It reasoned that employers don’t violate the FMLA when they refuse to reinstate an employee who can’t perform his old job. Plus, it determined that Macfarlan wasn’t disabled; he merely had a lifting restriction that turned out to be temporary. Therefore, he wasn’t entitled to accommodations under the ADA either. (Macfarlan v. Ivy Hill, et al., No. 11-2307, 3rd Cir., 2012)

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