No liability if psych patient cleared to work

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Hiring,Human Resources

Employers covered by the FMLA must allow eligible employees with serious health conditions to take FMLA leave. They also have to reinstate them following leave if a doctor says they are ready to return to work without restrictions. That’s true even if the serious health condition was a serious psychiatric problem.

Fortunately, if the employee goes on to injure another employee, the medical release will protect the employer from negligent supervision claims, as long as there is no other reason to suspect the returning employee might become a danger to himself or others.

Recent case: Amy Prewitt was raped by a co-worker at the residential center for the mentally disabled where both worked. The co-worker had recently returned from FMLA leave to treat borderline schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He had received a clean bill of health from his doctors, allowing him to return to work with no restrictions.

Prewitt sued, alleging negligent hiring and supervision. She reasoned that the employer should have suspected her co-worker might be dangerous.

But the court rejected her claim, reasoning that the employer reasonably relied on the medical release the co-worker got before returning from FMLA leave. There was no other evidence that he might be dangerous. (Prewitt v. Alexson Services, No. CA2007-09-218, Court of Appeals of Ohio, 2008)

Final note: Remember, you must allow employees to return to the same or an equivalent job following an approved FMLA leave if their doctors say they can return without restrictions. If lingering problems prevent a return to the same job and the employee’s condition qualifies as a disability under the ADA, you may have to make reasonable accommodations—possibly including allowing more time off.

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