Does Granting Leave Violate FMLA?

By Vance Knapp

In James v. Hyatt Regency, Case No. 12-1511 (7th Cir. Feb. 13, 2013), the plaintiff argued that his current employer violated the FMLA because it did not promptly reinstate him to return to work. The plaintiff submitted five doctor’s notes to Hyatt, which he characterized as “physician releases.” However, only one of the notes released the plaintiff to return to work, and even then it was to light duty. Instead of creating a light duty job, the employer gave the plaintiff more leave of absence – months more leave of absence. The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s argument: under the FMLA, employers have no obligation to restore an employee to his or her position if the employee is unable to perform the essential functions of the job.

Employers sometimes offer light duty for other reasons – workers compensation, ADA accommodations, etc. – but a doctor’s note releasing an employee to light duty does not require reinstatement under the FMLA. There is no such thing as “FMLA light duty.” At least not yet.

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