What Are Your Rights To Reinstatement After FMLA Leave?

As Des Moines employment lawyers and Des Moines wrongful termination lawyers we frequently handle cases arising under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  The FMLA includes more than just provisions for employee medical leave. The FMLA also governs what an employer must do when an employee returns from FMLA-covered leave. 

In most instances, an employer is legally obligated to reinstate an employee who returns from FMLA leave. That includes reinstatement of all of the employee's benefits. The employee is supposed to return to the same position the employee held when the employee went on leave, or to an equivalent position with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment. An employee is entitled to such reinstatement even if the employee has been replaced or his or her position has been restructured to accommodate the employee's absence.

The employee’s former position is simply the same position the employee held before going on leave. The tougher questions arises when the employer returns the employee to an equivalent position, rather than the same position.  So what’s considered an equivalent position? A position is "equivalent" if it involves the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities, which must entail substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility, and authority. Courts consider the new position's pay, benefits, job duties, shift and schedule, and location when deciding whether a position is equivalent to the one the employee held before taking FMLA leave.

As noted, employees sometimes do not have a right to reinstatement after FMLA leave. An employee has no greater right to reinstatement or to other benefits and conditions of employment than if the employee had been continuously employed during the FMLA leave period. An employer must be able to show that an employee would not otherwise have been employed at the time reinstatement is requested in order to deny restoration to employment. For example, if a shift has been eliminated, or overtime has been decreased, an employee would not be entitled to return to work that shift or the original overtime hours upon restoration. But if a position on a certain shift has been filled by another employee, the returning employee is entitled to return to the same shift on which employed before taking FMLA leave.

A common exception to FMLA reinstatement arises when the employee's medical conditions prevents the performance of the essential functions of the job. If the employee is unable to perform an essential function of the position because of a physical or mental condition, including the continuation of a serious health condition or an injury or illness also covered by workers' compensation, the employee has no right to restoration to another position under the FMLA. But the employer have obligations to offer reasonable accommodations under state or federal disability discrimination law.  

Harley Erbe