FMLA regulations make it hard for employers to protest employee accusations. Here are some employers who won FMLA lawsuits, and ideas to help you win, too.
After leave, FMLA regulations don’t require accommodation
FMLA regulations say returning employees get same pay and benefits, no accommodations
But she insists she can work full-time if the company accommodates her. She wants her old job back and says she needs only a few inexpensive accommodations that won’t disrupt production.
Of course your company may want her to get back to her old job, but not necessarily. You may not want the potential liability; or maybe business is slow and you’d prefer she not return just yet. So it makes no business sense to spend money on special accommodations.
But what does the law say? Do you have to accommodate this employee under FMLA regulations?
No, according to a case that involved Courtney Green, a floor worker at athletic shoe manufacturer New Balance. A district court stated that despite her claim that she could perform a full day’s work in her former position if accommodated (she’d just had a child), Green’s only right under FMLA while in her reduced-leave employment was to the same pay and benefits she received in her former position.
Cite: Green v. New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc., U.S. District Court, District of Maine, No. 01-CV-60-B-S. 1/29/02.
Employer had no duty under FMLA regulations to advise worker on leave
If a job comes open when a worker is on FMLA leave, must you notify the worker about it? No, said a court.
When a worker was on pregnancy leave, a position became open that she didn’t hear about. When she did hear, she got steamed at the missed opportunity. She filed a lawsuit claiming she’d been penalized for taking FMLA leave.
A judge tossed her lawsuit. Employers aren’t responsible for notifying employees who are on FMLA leave of advancement opportunities – not unless the employee has already applied for the position. In this case, the employee had expressed only a general desire for a promotion.
In reaching its decision, the court said notifying her about the open position “would impose on an employer a responsibility to keep track of all employees who have generally expressed an interest in promotion and consider each of them for any opening for which they are qualified but did not specifically apply.” That would create too big a burden for employers.
Cite: O’Bar v. Borough of Nantucket.
Court: Retroactive designation of FMLA leave does no harm Recent Supreme Court decision eliminates FMLA regulations
Good news for employers: Designating FMLA leave retroactively is legal – as long as the worker isn’t harmed as a result.
As you may know, in March the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the FMLA regulations that said if an employer didn’t designate an employee leave as FMLA, any time off before the worker received notice of the designation can’t count against the 12-week entitlement (Ragsdale v. Wolverine Worldwide, Inc.).
Here’s a recent case that clarifies Ragsdale: A legal secretary’s 40+-hour-a-week job entailed many paralegal duties.
Suffering from stress, she requested a non-paid leave. Fourteen weeks later, when she was ready for work, she was offered a new position that her employer believed would be less stressful. But she refused to return if it involved paralegal duties or working more than 40 hours a week.
When she rejected the alternative position, she was taken off the payroll. At that time her leave was designated as FMLA, and she was notified that since she’d exceeded her 12 weeks she was no longer entitled to a job with the firm.
She sued – and she lost. Why? Because of the Ragsdale decision. The court noted that even if she’d been given 12 more weeks of FMLA she still wouldn’t have returned to work. The retroactive designation didn’t harm her, so it was perfectly legitimate.
Cite: Summers v. Middleton & Reutlinger, PSC, U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky, No. 3:99CV-85-S, 6/20/02.
Offer of light-duty work did not violate FMLA regulations
After 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave are up, an employer is no longer required to keep a job open if the worker can’t perform it.
In a recent case, after FMLA leave, when an employee still wasn’t fit for duty, her employer offered her a temporary light-duty assignment, which she accepted.
At the end of that assignment she still couldn’t perform her job. No other job could be found for her, and she was terminated. The employee filed an FMLA lawsuit but lost. In reaching its decision, the court noted, “Whether on FMLA or light duty, an employee who is unable to resume her original position after 12 weeks has no further protection under FMLA regulations.”
Cite: Artis v. Palos Community Hospital.
According to FMLA regulations, leave is no time to take a vacation
When you grant an FMLA leave, you have the right to make sure the employee uses the unpaid time off for its intended purpose. If he doesn’t, you can fire him, said a court in Alabama.
In this case, an employer learned that a worker was using FMLA leave to go on a camping trip instead of care for his critically ill father. When the employee’s supervisor heard about the camping trip, he confronted the employee, who didn’t deny the allegation. The employer fired the worker, who turned around and sued – claiming that the employer interfered with his FMLA rights and that the employer retaliated against him for exercising those rights when it terminated him.
The employer’s motion for summary judgment was granted and the case was thrown out of court.
Cite: Williamson v. Parker Hannifin Corp., U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama, No. CV-01-BU-2678-M, 6/21/02.
Subscribe to HR Info Center
Get the latest research on workplace learning with weekly posts delivered to your inbox