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California employer addresses employee's fitness for duty

Employees often need help to understand what their rights and responsibilities are when taking a leave of absence from work or returning from that leave. Those rights and responsibilities are governed by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and its counterpart in California, the California Family Rights Act. Although many employee questions center on when they can take leave and for how long, it is also important to know what can happen when returning to work.

The California Court of Appeals recently gave clarification in that regard. The court ruled that even though the laws require employers to accept certifications from employee health care providers about the employee's fitness for duty, employers may take another step. That additional step is requiring employees to be evaluated for fitness for duty after the employees return from FMLA leave.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by a woman who went on leave after having emotional problems at work. Her psychiatrist certified her need for FMLA leave. Just before she returned, she was put on paid administrative leave. She was also told she would need to submit to a medical evaluation in regards to the problems she had on the job prior to her FMLA leave.

A trial court blocked that evaluation, and also prevented the DA from charging the employee with insubordination. The DA appealed, resulting in the Court of Appeals ruling. That ruling said when an employee returns to work, the employer can insist that their fitness for duty be medically reevaluated.

This ruling broadly applies to all types of positions and is something all returning employees should be aware of. Anyone facing comparable issues after returning from FMLA leave can see how this affects them by consulting with an experienced attorney.

Source: Business & Legal Resources, "FMLA: California employer can seek fitness-for-duty certification after job restoration", June 23, 2014

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