TOP TIP: Be Vigilant About Communicating with Employees on FMLA Leave
Sometimes when an employee is on an extended Family and Medical Leave Act leave, it can be a case of “out-of-sight, out-of-mind.” But a recent federal court opinion reminds employers of the importance of communicating with employees on FMLA leave.
Under the FMLA regulations, an employer is required to notify an employee of the amount of leave that will be counted against his FMLA entitlement. In Dusik v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs. of Ill., the employee requested three to six months off for knee surgery and recovery. She also asked that, while she was on leave, her manager update her as to her hours and how much leave she had left. She was told that her leave would be designated as FMLA beginning on March 31, but was never given any further information about how much leave was left or that she could be terminated if she failed to return by a certain date. The employee was then terminated when her FMLA leave was exhausted.
The federal court found that the employee had requested updates about her leave but the employer had failed to provide them, and that this failure could have interfered with her FMLA rights. The employee claimed that, had she known that her FMLA leave was running out, she could potentially have returned to work with accommodations or requested an extension under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This case emphasizes the need for employers to be vigilant about complying with the obligation to keep employees informed about their FMLA leave status and when the leave will expire – prior to the expiration date. It also reminds employers that it is never wise to terminate an employee automatically at the end of FMLA leave. Instead, the employer should engage in the reasonable accommodation interactive process to determine if additional leave should be provided under the ADA or if some other accommodation could be provided to enable the employee to return to work.