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Demotion doesn’t satisfy FMLA return requirement

The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that understands that employees may need time off for medical or family issues beyond vacation time — if any — that is offered by an employer. The legislation is applicable in Minnesota and across the nation and allows employees to take unpaid time off while having their job protected.

What does this job-protection requirement really mean? When an employee takes FMLA leave the employer does not always have to hold the exact same position open for the employee, but it must be an equivalent job. This means that a job constituting a demotion would violate the reinstatement provision of the law and could be considered FMLA retaliation or discrimination. 

Take for example the situation of one woman who recently filed an employment lawsuit in federal court. According to the woman, she was mistreated from the start by one supervisor. Discrimination based on race was experienced by the employee and described in the complaint. She said that herself and other minority employees were treated differently, yelled at by the supervisor.

For this employee the discriminating and harassing actions became so stressful that a doctor certified FMLA leave based on the strain caused by her boss. When she brought the issue of leave up with the supervisor, he prohibited her from taking time off right away, instead requiring her to wait until the current project was completed.

Upon her return to work after the certified FMLA leave, she was targeted once again. The job she returned to was not the same. Instead, she had been transferred from an office into a cubicle, her salary had been reduced and the new position she was placed in required extensive travel.

The court heard arguments from both sides but determined that these two jobs could not be considered equivalent under the reinstatement provision.

Source: Business Management, “Reinstate employee to equivalent job after FMLA leave,” May 23, 2013

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