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What to do when return-to-work is uncertain

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employers can require a fitness-to-return-to-work exam when employees have been out on FMLA leave for their own serious health condition. If the worker’s doctor clears the employee—even with minor restrictions—you should allow him to return while you get necessary medical clarification.

Recent case: William, who sometimes worked outside, took FMLA leave for uncontrolled hypertension. His doctors said he could return when his leave ran out, but that his employer should consider allowing him to work inside when the temperature was too high or too low, to avoid possible shortness of breath.

The employer concluded William wasn’t fit and put him on unpaid leave status pending further medical information about his condition. William never returned to work.

Later, he sued, alleging disability discrimination and failure to reinstate from FMLA leave.

The court looked at his medical restrictions and concluded they didn’t substantially limit a major life function. While William complained his condition made it hard to sleep, he couldn’t show how that was different from millions of other Americans with sleep problems.

Plus, his doctors didn’t provide any specifics on why he should have avoided working outside, such as temperature ranges and possible consequences. The court concluded William wasn’t disabled.

On the other hand, the court said his FMLA-interference claim could go forward.

That’s because William’s doctors said he could return to work if he worked inside at least sometimes. The employer was free to challenge that conclusion by asking for more medical evidence that he couldn’t work outside, but it had to reinstate him pending receipt of that information. Telling him to stay home wasn’t an option. (Boughton v. Bethlehem, No. 1:13-CV-01583, ND NY, 2015)

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