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Beware knee-jerk firing after FMLA leave

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees who return from FMLA leave may not be fully healed. They may, in fact, have developed serious enough medical problems to be disabled under the ADA.

Firing such an employee because she is out of leave and can’t resume her old position will probably trigger a lawsuit.

Instead, always consider whether the returning worker may now be disabled and entitled to reasonable accommodations. Those can include removing nonessential functions from her job description or providing assistance with essential job functions.

Or accommodations can involve modifying an employee’s schedule or granting additional time off.

Recent case: Robyn worked as a sous chef at the Great Wolf Lodge resort in Pennsylvania, a job that requires extensive bending, stretching and standing. She had shoulder surgery and was out of work for 10 days.

She returned to a light-duty position but soon had to have knee surgery, too. That’s when she asked for FMLA leave, which was approved.

But when she was out of leave, she still couldn’t resume all her prior duties. Her doctors placed restrictions on bending and standing for long periods of time and recommended more light-duty work.

However, Great Wolf Lodge refused to consider Robyn’s request and terminated her instead.

Robyn sued, alleging that the resort should at least have considered an accommodation.

Great Wolf Lodge argued she wasn’t disabled, but the court disagreed. It said being unable to stand and bend her knees was a substantial impairment entitling her to ADA protection. (Maley v. Great Wolf Lodge, No. 3:15-CV-379, MD PA, 2016)

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