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Employee returning from FMLA leave? OK to assign her to different, equivalent job

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Some employees mistakenly believe that when they take FMLA leave, they are guaranteed an unchanged job when they return. That’s not true.

What the FMLA promises is that employees who take protected leave will be returned to the same or an equivalent job. Plus, if circumstances have changed and the employer has eliminated or altered the job for legitimate business reasons unrelated to FMLA leave, the employee may be out of luck.

Someone who takes FMLA leave doesn’t enjoy greater job protection from reorganizations, downsizing or other legitimate business moves than other employees have.

Recent case: Paula Crawford suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder caused in part by a co-worker’s suicide. Work stress was another factor. Then she had surgery to remove her gall bladder and needed several FMLA leaves.

After returning from one leave, she was reassigned to another job. Her employer’s reason: It had determined that her old job was no longer necessary. Crawford’s new job afforded her the same pay and benefits she had before.

She sued anyway, alleging interference with her reinstatement rights under the FMLA.

The court disagreed, pointing out that the jobs were roughly equivalent. Although Crawford considered the new position a detour from her chosen career path, that wasn’t enough to sue under the FMLA. Plus, the court didn’t see the move to eliminate her old job as anything except a business decision unrelated to FMLA leave. (Crawford v. JPMorgan, No. 2:10-CV-258, SD OH, 2012)

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