Employees Must Be Given Clear, Actual Notice of FMLA Policies

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Ambiguity and confusion can be costly. In Thom v. American Standard, Inc., the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals awarded liquidated damages in a case “arising from confusion as to when an employee should return to work after his leave.”

The plaintiff, an employee who had worked for American Standard for 36 years, went on medical leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to undergo surgery for a non-work related injury. The company granted his leave request and informed him, in writing, that his leave would extend until June 27. Following his surgery, the plaintiff began recovering faster than expected by his doctor. His doctor provided him with a note releasing him to light duty beginning May 31 and to full duty on June 13. As a result, the plaintiff attempted to return to work on May 31, which was before the expiration of his approved FMLA leave. He was not allowed to return to work at that time because the company did not permit employees with non-work related injuries to perform light duty work temporarily after FMLA leave.

On June 14, the company contacted the plaintiff to ask why he had not returned to work the previous day. The plaintiff explained that he was suffering from increased pain and would return to work on June 27, as originally scheduled. The plaintiff received a doctor’s note explaining his condition and delivered it to the company on June 18. When he delivered the doctor’s note, he was informed that each day between June 13 and June 17 was as an unexcused absence and, consequently, his employment was terminated.

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