HR Management & Compliance

FMLA: Can You Block an Employee On Work Restrictions from Returning to Work?

By Tom Harper, The Law and Mediation Offices of G. Thomas Harper, LLC

A federal district court in Miami has denied an employer’s request that it dismiss a lawsuit brought by an employee it refused to reinstate because she wasn’t “100% cured” and fully released to return to work with no restrictions after her medical leave. In reaching its decision, the court discussed the two types of medical certifications allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations and the requirements for each type.

Heavy lifting in software job?
From 2011 until 2014, Sarah Dykstra worked for Florida Foreclosure Attorneys, a large Palm Beach County law firm with more than 50 employees. She eventually became the law firm’s IT director, a job in which she was responsible for the firm’s software systems and security policies. She earned up to $100,000 a year.

In March 2014, Dykstra suffered a serious back injury. She had several surgeries and was unable to return to work until July 2014. Although her injury occurred in March, the law firm didn’t place her on FMLA leave until June 9, 2014. Her 12 weeks of protected leave were set to expire on September 6, 2014.

Dykstra claimed that she contacted the law firm on July 1 and asked if she could return to work by working from home. The law firm denied her request. According to Dykstra, the firm told her that she could come back only if she could work “full-time” in the office.

About a month later, Dykstra again contacted the firm to say that she was “ready, willing and able” to resume her job. She provided certification from her doctor stating that she was medically cleared to return to work “with light[-]duty restrictions.” What her doctor meant by that was never clarified. However, the law firm refused to allow her to return to work until she was “100% cured.”

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