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Return employees to their jobs promptly after FMLA leave

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

When employees tell you they're ready to return from leave taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), restore their jobs as soon as possible. Once employees are capable of performing the job's essential functions, their return-to-work rights kick in.

The good news: You can demand verification that employees are truly ready to return. To do this, request a medical release that describes the worker's functional limitations. (Asking for any other information may be perceived as an illegal privacy invasion.)

Also, don't be tempted to require that employees be partially or completely healed before returning to work. The proper inquiry: whether the employee can perform the job with reasonable accommodations.

Recent case: Honda production line worker Lori Hoge requested and was granted a month of FMLA leave to recover from surgery. After the month, she returned with a medical release from her doctor, expecting to return to work.

But Hoge had to wait a month to be reinstated. Honda's explanation: It had modified the production line during Hoge's absence and, as a result, finding a job to suit her medical restrictions was difficult.

Hoge sued, claiming the delay violated the FMLA. A district court sided with her, saying the company should have returned Hoge to a job the day after she came back to the plant. It also said she could perform several jobs with her restrictions.

The FMLA's "plain meaning" doesn't allow employers to take their time in reinstating returning employees, the court said. By requiring Hoge to take more medical leave than necessary, Honda interfered with her FMLA rights. (Hoge v. Honda of America Mfg. Inc., No. 03-3452, 6th Cir., 2004)

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