How To Return To Work After Your Leave

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Public sector workers or workers at companies with 50 employees or more can take job-protected unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
A worker is qualified for leave should they have been employed by their company for a minimum of 12 months and have worked greater than 1,250 hours in the past year, neither of which need to be consecutive.

In order to be approved, a worker should submit a medical validation to meet FMLA certification requirements. An FMLA medical validation form is not complete if one or more applicable entries on the form have not been properly filled out with clear and easy-to-understand relevant details.

The business must tell a worker anytime it finds an FMLA medical validation letter to be inadequate and must state in writing what another information is needed. The organization must offer the worker a minimum of seven calendar days to remedy the deficiency. Also, the worker must be allowed more time if it is not feasible under the circumstances for them to turn back in the validation, irrespective of good-faith attempts.

Regulations do permit businesses to seek further information in regard to workers’ compensation benefits, paid disability or other paid leave. Companies may deny benefits if a worker does not provide the further relevant details, but such failure should not affect the worker’s right to take unpaid FMLA leave.

Asking for an FMLA ‘Return to Work” Certification

After an employee has recovered from his or her medical condition, they may try to come back to their job – as is protected by the FMLA. In order for an employee to be cleared for work, a company may mandate that they meet a fitness for duty release certification if their leave was for their own medical condition whether protected or not under the FMLA .

Organizations often require fitness for duty certifications for workers coming back from medical leave regardless of whether the medical leave is covered under the FMLA. It should be noted that a company, which requests a follow-up medical examination, might breach another federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Under the FMLA, a company may mandate workers who take leave for a personal significant health condition to offer a fitness for duty validation, which is a signed statement from a medical doctor saying that the worker is able to come back to work.

A company may seek an FMLA fitness for duty certification only with respect to the health condition that caused the worker’s need for leave. The company may mandate that the validation expressly discuss the worker’s capacity carry out the essential duties of the job, but only if the company tells the worker that this will be necessary and gives the worker a list of the fundamental job functions when the company first officially designates the worker’s time off as FMLA leave.

The company then may get in touch with the worker’s medical doctor for the clarification and authentication of the FMLA return to work certification. The company may not postpone the worker coming back to work while discussions with the medical doctor are taking place. Additionally, second or third opinions may not be the mandate for an FMLA fitness-for-duty certification.

A company may postpone restoration to employment until a fitness-for-duty validation has been received, unless the company has failed to offer the notice necessary. If a company informs workers that the validation necessary, a worker who does not supply an FMLA fitness-for-duty certification or ask for even more FMLA leave is no longer eligible for reinstatement under the law.

Under FMLA certification requirements, a company is not eligible to ask for a return-to-work certification for each absence used in an intermittent or decreased leave schedule. However, if realistic safety concerns are present concerning the worker’s capacity perform their duties due to the health condition for which the worker took this type of leave, a company is allowed to ask for an FMLA return to work certification from such absences up to once every 30 days. The company may not terminate the worker while waiting for fitness-for-duty validation for an intermittent or decreased schedule leave.

FMLA and the ADA: A case Study

The ADA prohibits disability discrimination and also regulates fitness for duty exams. Exams are allowed only in limited circumstances under the ADA because they could reveal too much information about an employee’s disability.

In the 2008 case Wice v. General Motors Corp., the court backed GM’s medical screening approach for workers to validate their capability to safely operate heavy equipment such as forklifts and bulldozers.

GM had mandated all millwright workers, including the plaintiff, to renew their in-plant operator’s license every three years. Within that process, workers were made to go to refresher training and complete a medical examination to make sure that they had the reactions, visual acuity, strength and coordination needed to operate the equipment properly. GM stated that the medical examinations also assisted the company in meeting state safety guidelines that said workers who handled heavy equipment must meet certain fitness standards.

While the plaintiff had been renewing his in-plant license regularly since 1971, he refused to take the medical test essential to renew the license in 2001. Wice was allowed the chance to have the exam carried out by his own doctor, who determined that “Wice was able to work and drive and operate equipment.”

GM established that more detail was necessary and asked the plaintiff to fill out a more detailed form, but he declined the proposal. Wice was then prohibited from operating heavy equipment in the plant, and for a time period, was prohibited from working overtime because there might be a chance that other workers, who could operate the equipment, would not be on location after hours.

The court determined that the medical assessment mandated by GM fulfilled the company necessity test as it was related to being able to safely execute the essential tasks of his job. Screening workers for medical conditions that might hinder their capacity operate heavy equipment was, therefore, considered an effective means of guaranteeing workplace safety.

When state rules or other unique instances warrant a medical examination to authenticate fitness for duty, the ADA necessitates that the test must be job-related and in keeping with a business necessity.