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Three Scenarios: Two FMLA, One Light Duty and One Reduced Schedule. Which One is Which?

It’s trivia time! We’ve listed three scenarios below, two FMLA leaves, one light duty and one reduced schedule. Can you tell which one is which?

1 - Melissa will be having bypass surgery, and will need to miss 6 weeks from work. When she returns she can work her regular job duties as plant foreman but will be limited to four-hour work days for the first three weeks.

2 – Jason has a bad cold and will need to stay home for two days and miss work at his job as a flight attendant to recover.

3 - Brian will be having knee surgery and will miss at least two weeks but not more than the six weeks for which he is certified. If he returns after two weeks, he will not be able to perform the heavy lifting duties associated with his regular job. A light duty position is available after two weeks of his absence, which he could do for 40 hours per week, but he doesn’t want to do it.

Which of these scenarios do you think is FMLA leave, light duty and reduced schedule?

Answers: Jason’s leave request doesn’t qualify as an FMLA leave. His need to miss two days for cold symptoms doesn’t meet the criteria as a serious health condition under the FMLA, so it is associated with sick time; not FMLA. It’s not related to any of the possible serious health condition elements outlined by the DOL:

  • It’s not inpatient care
  • It doesn’t require a period of incapacity requiring absence of three or more calendar days
  • It’s not due to pregnancy or prenatal care
  • It’s not associated with a chronic serious health condition
  • It’s not a period of incapacity that is permanent or long-term
  • It’s not associated with multiple treatments

So, which scenario is a reduced schedule? It’s Melissa’s leave.

All three situations will involve absence time, but only one involves a reduced schedule. Melissa’s job is protected while she’s absent six weeks because her bypass surgery and recovery meet the criteria as a serious health condition. Since she is able to work her same position with a modified schedule, this is interpreted as returning to an equivalent position with a trimmed or reduced schedule; she’s able to perform all of her regular job duties without assistance or accommodation but just not on a full-time basis.

What about Brian? Light duty is not required with the FMLA.

Brian is certified to miss six weeks of work, but his company has identified a light duty position he could complete after two weeks of absence. An employee who is physically or mentally unable to perform the essential functions of his or her position may be able to return to work sooner in a light duty position. But, according to the FMLA, employers are not required to create light duty positions and employees are not required to accept these positions. Light duty positions are not considered an equivalent position because they involve restricted duties or are a completely different job; consequently, the FMLA does not require reinstatement in this manner.

So, Brian has every right to refuse the offer of light duty under the FMLA. And, if his serious health condition doesn’t qualify as a disability, then the ADA and associated reasonable accommodation regulations are not applicable.

So what about you?

When employees, like Jason, request time off for situations other than serious health conditions are you consistently able to identify these situations as inapplicable to FMLA? Consider improving your workflow to include checks for these types of situations.

When employees, like Melissa, are only able to return to work on a reduced schedule, are you continuing to correctly identify and sum non-worked hours as FMLA? With the FMLA, her job is still protected despite her part time full duty.

Employees, like Brian, may turn down the opportunity for light duty work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue or even increase efforts to return employees to work. Those employees, who do choose to return full time with a light duty position, while not still using FMLA, are still in a temporary position. These temporary return to work efforts should be well-documented and monitored prior to complete job restoration.

What do you think? Did you know the answers to the trivia questions? Let us know in the comments section below.