Can employers return workers to different jobs after FMLA leaves?

When family or medical needs require a Wisconsin resident to take time off work, there are state and federal laws that come into play. Under the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act, private and public employers who have at least 50 employees must provide unpaid, job-protected medical or family leaves to workers who have put in at least 1,000 hours in the previous 52 weeks. Under the Wisconsin FMLA, workers can take up to six weeks of leave annually for the birth or adoption of a child, and two weeks for serious health conditions.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act offers more leave, but it may apply to fewer employers and employees in Wisconsin. Under the federal FMLA, 12 weeks of leave must be offered in a 12-month period for childbirth or adoption, a health condition, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. One of the most important aspects of both of these laws is that they require leaves that are job-protected. But, what exactly does that mean?

When an employee returns from an FMLA leave, he or she must be restored to his or her original position. If for some reason the original job is not available, he or she must be placed into an equivalent role–this means that the pay, benefits and terms and conditions of employment must be equivalent to those that the worker had before going on leave.

In one recent case, a woman returned from an FMLA leave to find that she was transferred into a new job. The transfer meant a pay cut, more travel and a physical move from an office to a cubicle.

She sued her employer for the failure to properly reinstate her following her FMLA leave. The employer apparently argued that she received everything she was entitled to simply by having a job to return to.

The court ruled in favor of the woman, finding that her original job and the job offered to her after her maternity leave were not equivalent, and thus in violation of the federal FMLA.

Source: Business Management Daily, “Reinstate employee to equivalent job after FMLA leave,” May 23, 2013

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