7th Circuit: No FMLA 'Light Duty'

September 19, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court ruling that an employee who chose to work a light duty assignment rather than take leave after a work injury is not due her full hourly pay for the time period of the assignment.

In affirming the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for Compass Group, the appellate court rejected Susan D. Hendricks’ argument that she was working on “FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) light duty” and that she was entitled to her full hourly pay “in line with 29 U.S.C. §§ 2612(a)(1), 2614(a)(1), guaranteeing placement in an equivalent position upon her return from FMLA leave.”

The court said Hendricks’ reading of the statutes and regulations is incorrect as there is no such thing as “FMLA light duty” whether pursuant to the statutes or their corresponding regulations.

The court pointed out “light duty” is mentioned in the regulations as a component of a workers’ compensation program. Further, the appellate court noted the FMLA does not guarantee a pay rate while an employee is on leave and the requirement that an employee be restored to his or her same or an equivalent position only applies if the employee is able physically to perform the functions and duties of that position.

Hendricks also argued that she was entitled to recover wages under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for employees at Compass Group, citing a provision that stated: “Employees who work on a temporary basis in a lower paid classification shall retain their regular rate.”

Compass Group responded that the CBA uses the term”classification,” not light duty, and there are six classifications in the CBA and light duty is not one of them.

The court also noted Hendricks’ claim under the CBA failed because she did not establish she was employed in light duty on a temporary basis. Hendricks performed light duty for the remainder of her employment with Compass Group after her injury, a period of nearly ten months, and did not present evidence that she planned or was able to return to her position as a utility driver.

After she suffered a rotator cuff injury while at work, Hendricks applied for workers’ compensation benefits, according to the court document. She did not apply for FMLA leave until about three months after her injury. Instead of taking FMLA immediately after her injury, she elected to take light duty under her workers’ compensation program.

Hendricks, previously a utility truck driver for a vending service, did office work for twenty-five hours per week earning $3.23 less per hour than she did as a driver, until she had surgery on her shoulder. Three days after her surgery she requested to return to work on light duty and continued to work in this capacity until the cessation of her employment with Compass Group.

The opinion in Hendricks v. Compass Group, USA, Inc. is  here .