Employer Must Reinstate Employee Released by Doctor

December 13, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court's ruling for an employer who terminated an employee for not providing more information after she supplied a doctor's note that she could return to work after taking Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave.

SHRM reports that the court said that an employer may require an employee to submit a fitness-for-duty certification by a health care provider as a condition of returning to work after a medical leave.   In addition, federal regulations allow an employer to terminate the employment of an individual who does not submit such a certification prior to the end of an FMLA leave.

However, the court determined that the employer cannot mandate the amount or type of information that must be included in the fitness-for-duty certification – it need only state that the employee can return to work.   The employer may require additional information related to the individual’s ability to do the essential functions of the job, but the regulation states that reinstatement cannot be delayed while the employer obtains that additional information.

According to the report on SHRM, Linda Brumbalough was Tennessee state clinical director for Camelot Care Centers, and supervised five local offices and a residential treatment center in addition to filling in as clinical director for local offices during temporary vacancies.   Brumbalough often worked more than 60 hours a week, and was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Brumbalough informed Camelot that she was having medical problems and needed to reduce her hours, according to SHRM.   She subsequently requested FMLA leave, which Camelot granted, with no firm return date.

Camelot informed Brumbalough that she was required to provide status reports every 30 days and present a fitness-for-duty certification prior to being restored to employment.   Since there was no firm return date, the employer also required Brumbalough to provide a recertification of her need for leave after two months.

Prior to the end of two months Brumbalough provided to her employer a note from her doctor that she could return to work, but could work no more than 40 -45 hours per week and could travel out-of-town for work no more than one day per week.   The company made another request for a more detailed fitness-for-duty certification to be provided before Brumbalough could be reinstated.   When Brumbalough failed to provide the additional information before the company’s stated deadline, she was terminated.

Brumbalough sued Camelot, alleging the company violated the FMLA by discharging her while she was on leave and by refusing to reinstate her upon her doctor’s release.   The lower court granted Camelot’s motion for summary judgment, but the appellate court reversed the decision and remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

The case isBrumbalough v. Camelot Care Centers, 6th Cir., No. 04-5543 (Nov. 2, 2005).