Beware schedule changes when employee returns after FMLA leave

When an employee takes FMLA leave, she is supposed to return to her old job or an equivalent one in terms of pay, responsibilities and other benefits. Something as minor as a change in starting time can sometimes support an FMLA-interference claim.

Recent case: Carol had worked for a nursing home for more than 30 years when she had to take FMLA leave. She had worked a 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift, spending most of her time running exercise classes for residents and performing intake interviews to assess patient needs and abilities.

When her FMLA leave was almost over, her supervisors called and let her know that her schedule and job duties would change. She had to start coming in at 7:30 and leaving at 4. In addition, she would be doing less intake work and more routine tasks. However, Carol retained her title, pay and benefits.

Carol never returned. She sued, alleging interference with her FMLA rights. The nursing home argued nothing substantial about her job had changed.

The court ordered a jury trial after concluding that the altered schedule alone could be a significant change. Although not as drastic as a complete shift change, the new schedule was not insignificant. Add to that the fact that Carol’s work assignments were now less challenging than before, and a jury might conclude the new job wasn’t equivalent to the one she held before. (Haskell v. CentralCare Health, No. 12-1743, DC MN, 2013)