If you temporarily reassign employees’ duties to prepare for their absence on FMLA leave, can they later turn around and accuse you of an adverse job action?

Fortunately, a lawsuit like this has little chance of success. The federal courts ruled in favor of a Georgia employer in just such a situation.

Responsibilities removed
Here’s what happened: The employer granted a pregnant employee’s request for FMLA maternity leave.

To make sure her functions were carried out during her absence, her supervisor redistributed most of her responsibilities to two co-workers. The supervisor took the action six weeks before the scheduled start of leave.

The employee took her leave but was later terminated as part of a reduction in force. She then sued for FMLA retaliation and pregnancy discrimination.

Accommodation, not discrimination
The courts said she had no case.

True, a reduction in responsibilities can be a sign of discriminatory adverse action. But in this instance, the reassignment of the employee’s duties was a direct result of the employer’s efforts to accommodate her FMLA leave, the court said. And the employee was neither demoted nor had her pay cut.

The court noted that some of the employee’s tasks had to be done daily, and the employer wasn’t unreasonable to want to prepare those who would replace her during her leave.

Cite: Hyde v. K.B. Home, Inc.,No. 09-11755, 11th Cir., 12/1/09.

2 Comments

  • JN says:

    I understand how the courts ruled, however I do have one question – would she have been the one downsized if she wasn”t out on leave. I’m sure the employer saw that the other two people could handle her responsibilities and that may have played a part in her eventual termination. I just wonder if this restructuring had happened while she was in the office if maybe someone else would have been let go and she would have absorbed that person’s tasks instead.

  • JN says:

    I understand how the courts ruled, however I do have one question – would she have been the one downsized if she wasn”t out on leave. I’m sure the employer saw that the other two people could handle her responsibilities and that may have played a part in her eventual termination. I just wonder if this restructuring had happened while she was in the office if maybe someone else would have been let go and she would have absorbed that person’s tasks instead.

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