The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a crucial piece of legislation offering eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period for various family and medical reasons. These include childbirth and infant care within one year of birth, adoption or foster care placement within one year of placement, caring for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition, the employee’s own serious health condition rendering them unable to perform job functions, and certain exigencies arising from military service.

After exhausting FMLA leave, employees may have diverse needs. Some might be ready to resume work, with or without limitations, while others might require additional leave. Managing these scenarios effectively is essential for compliance with FMLA and other pertinent state and federal laws.

Having a robust policy on leaves of absence in place before such situations arise is crucial for consistency and clarity in implementation.

Employee Wants to Return to Work

If an employee is ready to return after FMLA leave due to their own serious health condition, employers may request a fitness-for-duty certification from the healthcare provider as a condition for their return. Employers must notify the employee of this requirement when they designate the leave as FMLA at the beginning of the leave. It’s imperative that such requirements are uniformly applied to all similarly situated employees, as outlined in a well-documented policy.

Employee Wants to Return to Work With Restrictions

Often, an employee may be released to work by their healthcare provider but with restrictions. The restrictions may be short-term or may be permanent. Employers should not disregard such fitness-for-duty releases. FMLA doesn’t mandate full release for return to work.

Those restrictions will require employers to consider reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Engaging in an interactive process with the employee regarding restrictions and possible accommodations is essential. Employers should not assume that because there is not a full release and all FMLA has been exhausted that they can cut ties with the employee without consequences.

Employee Needs More Time Off

If an employee requires additional time off after exhausting their FMLA entitlement, employers should consider whether the situation falls under the purview of the ADA. Not all FMLA-eligible employees will qualify for ADA accommodations. However, if an employee who has taken FMLA leave for his/her own serious health condition and needs additional time off due to that serious health condition may be entitled to additional leave as an accommodation under the ADA. The ADA recognizes leave as an accommodation, and additional leave may be deemed reasonable on a case-by-case basis.

Communication With the Employee is Key

Effective communication with employees is vital, regardless of the applicable law. Employers should ensure employees understand what leave is available, their leave status, including how much leave they have used or have remaining, and any requirements for returning to work. Failure to communicate or deliberate avoidance can lead to breakdowns in the process and potential legal issues.