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Worker on FMLA leave: What you need to know

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Although HR usually handles the details when an employee is eligible and takes Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, managers should never be in the dark about what that means once the leave is approved.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Develop a re-entry strategy. The FMLA requires that workers be returned to the same job or an “equivalent” job when the leave is up. And plenty of lawsuits have been waged by workers who feel their new placements were demotions. But in today’s fast-changing workplaces the same job may not even exist after 12 weeks, the amount of unpaid time an employee is allowed to take per year under the law. So, it can save you headaches if, before a worker takes FMLA leave, you discuss the range of options for re-entry. What sorts of duties would be mutually acceptable or desirable, if the status quo would no longer be an option?
  • Establish what “leave” really means. If a crisis erupts that only an employee on FMLA leave can address, can you ask her to come back? That’s another issue to address with careful advance planning. If an employee can and wants to stay involved in the team’s work while on leave, then clarify how that can best happen.

Ask yourself and your employee: Can she come into work when needed? Could that be on a regular schedule? Or could she consult by phone or email? And would these be considered part of her leave, or as regular paid work? And if it’s regular work, then can you ask her to assume different duties after the leave? The law allows for intermittent FMLA leave, but an employee may argue that, in such cases she never really left her previous job, and so it should be available for her when she’s back full time.

Important: Very often, employees don’t want to be bothered by their employers when they are on FMLA leave. Managers should never barrage or pester workers who are taking FMLA leave with phone calls or emails unless the reason to contact them is vital. Employees who felt they were badgered while on FMLA leave could raise a claim of FMLA interference.

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