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Make Your Return-to-Work Requirements Reasonable

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Issue: Can you probe into employees' conditions when they're returning from medical leave?

Risk: If you ask too many questions of such workers (or erect too many roadblocks to their return), you'll risk a lawsuit.

Action: Use your right to medical certification appropriately, but don't go overboard.

When employees return from leave for an FMLA-covered illness or ADA-related disability, you naturally want to make sure they're ready to resume work. After all, if problems linger, you may need to adjust accommodations or make other arrangements that prevent future absences or injuries.

Just make sure you don't create so many roadblocks to the employee's return that it looks like you're retaliating against him or her for taking leave.

Your best bet with returning employees is to obtain a medical clearance from the employee's doctor that spells out whether he or she is fully recovered or needs light duty. Then, obtain clarification of any restrictions.

Don't, however, insist on multiple evaluations or expert referrals unless it's absolutely necessary.

Case in point: A bus driver took FMLA leave for a month to deal with Hepatitis C complications. He returned with a doctor's note saying he could resume driving without restrictions.

When the bus company required him to fill out a return-to-work form that asked if he had other physical or mental conditions, he checked "yes" because he and his wife had undergone marital counseling. That "yes" triggered numerous requests for more certifications. Finally, the bus company demanded a psychiatric evaluation, saying he couldn't return to work until he complied.

He sued, alleging retaliation for taking FMLA leave. The court ordered a trial based on the roadblocks the bus company put in place. (Stevens v. Peter Pan Bus Lines, No. 3:03CV1948, DC CT, 2005)

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