Workload woes – why this employee’s FMLA case didn’t win in court
Posted September 29, 2023
Employers may require employees who take time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to catch up on their work when they return (within reason), according to a Third Circuit ruling. The FMLA entitles eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be held to deadlines and work rules, generally.
Stephen, a financial advisor, suffered from an FMLA-qualifying serious health condition. He began having issues with absences and tardies. From February 11 through March 9, he took intermittent FMLA leave to treat his condition.
Fast forward to May when Stephen missed several meetings and received a verbal warning about his attendance. Shortly after being disciplined, Stephen took continuous FMLA leave from May 30 through August 30. During this time, he relied on coworkers to manage his accounts.
The plot thickens
When Stephen returned from leave, he resumed his financial advisor role. But about 70 of his accounts had become delinquent. Wendy, his supervisor, told him to bring the delinquent accounts up to date. Stephen did not ask for help in updating his accounts, but Wendy gave him multiple extensions to complete this work.
On October 23, Stephen was in a car accident and was hospitalized until midday October 24. He worked from home on October 25. He did not, however, tell Wendy that he would be out on October 24 or working from home on October 25.
Following the accident, Wendy began requiring Stephen to notify both her and the branch manager if he was not going to be in the office by 9 a.m.
Stephen continued to violate the call-out procedure and was eventually fired for it.
Stephen sued, arguing in part that the employer allowed his work to accumulate while he was on leave and then required him to complete it immediately upon his return. This significantly increased his workload, he claimed, and altered his job duties so he did not return to an “equivalent” position from the one he left.
In finding for the employer, the court said that the FMLA provides that an employer must reinstate an employee to the same or an equivalent position after leave, not that their leave has no impact on their work.
According to the court, the employer didn’t violate Stephen’s FMLA rights by asking him to perform tasks that he traditionally did but had accumulated in his absence because he was:
- Returned to his same position, and
- Given multiple extensions to complete the work.
Had the employer, while Stephen was on leave, transferred his accounts to another financial advisor, this would have substantially affected Stephen’s pay and denied him his main source of compensation.
Drizos v. PNC Investments LLC, 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-1736, August 3, 2023.
This article was written by Darlene Clabault of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.