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Think carefully about how work restrictions will play out following FMLA leave

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

What do you do if an employee has used up her FMLA leave and her doctor has placed limits on the kind of work she can do?

It’s fine to let her return with the restrictions. You won’t later lose an FMLA retaliation case for placing her on light duty.

Recent case: Theresa injured her back at a second job and asked her primary employer for FMLA leave so she could have back surgery. The request was approved. She had the surgery and took her FMLA leave.

Her doctor then cleared her for work, but gave her a lifting restriction. An independent exam arranged by the employer agreed with Theresa’s doctor’s assessment. She was placed on restricted work. After six months and no improvement, Theresa was terminated under a company policy that only allowed restricted duty for just six months.

She sued, alleging that the em-ployer violated the FMLA when it didn’t return her to the same or an equivalent job but instead placed her on restricted duty.

The court tossed out her case. It reasoned that it was Theresa’s doctor who recommended the restriction, not the employer. Therefore, the employer couldn’t have retaliated—it was only following her doctor’s orders. (Greineder v. Masonic Homes, No. 13-2376, ED PA, 2014)

Final note: If the nature of the work makes injuries likely, it may make sense for employers to limit re­­turn­­ing to work with restrictions. If you don’t, be sure to have your health insurer coordinate treatment with your workers’ compensation carrier.

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