Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. 8000 Flour Exchange Building 310 Fourth Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55415 612.455.0500
Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. 8000 Flour Exchange Building 310 Fourth Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55415 612.455.0500

Court Says “Stay Home” to Employees on FMLA Leave Who Can’t Do Their Jobs

Eighth Circuit Holds That Only “Qualified” Employees Are Entitled to Intermittent FMLA Leave
In Hatchett v. Philander Smith College, 251 F.3d 670 (8th Cir. Feb. 14, 2001), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided a very important question under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The court held that employees are not entitled to intermittent FMLA leave unless they can perform the essential functions of their jobs. The case appears to be the first reported decision among the federal Circuit Courts of Appeals to address this issue, although common sense would lead most rational people to the same result.

In Hatchett, the plaintiff-employee suffered injuries while on the job. Initially, the employee required a total leave of absence from work to recover from the injury. Eventually, the plaintiff desired to return to work on a part-time basis, utilizing intermittent FMLA leave for all time spent not working. The plaintiff’s doctor had imposed work restrictions that prevented her from performing work deemed essential to her position as outlined by the employer’s job description. On this basis, the employer denied the employee’s request for intermittent leave.

Later, the employee filed suit under the FMLA. The district court ruled that the employer had not violated the FMLA by denying the plaintiff’s request for intermittent leave under the FMLA. The court reasoned that the FMLA protects employees who must (1) leave work; or (2) reduce their work schedule — provided the employee can still perform his or her essential job duties while at work. Because the plaintiff’s medical restrictions prevented her from performing such essential duties, the court held that the employer was not required to provide intermittent leave under the FMLA. The Eighth Circuit agreed with the ruling of the district court. This decision is important for employers because it limits the number of employees who are entitled to intermittent FMLA leave. Oftentimes, providing such “intermittent” leave can impose significant administrative burdens on the employer and disrupt operations.

This decision makes clear what should be self-evident: An employer is required to provide intermittent FMLA leave only to those employees who can actually perform their essential job responsibilities while they are at work. The employer is not required to permit employees on FMLA leave to come and go as they wish only to perform make-work or twiddle their thumbs while they are present at the worksite.

If you have any questions about the FMLA policies, please contact one of the employment law attorneys of Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A.
About the Author:
Minnesota employment law attorney Craig W. Trepanier practices extensively in the field of employment law, including representing employees in FMLA matters and advising employers on their FMLA policies. Craig may be reached at 612.455.0502 or Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. is a Minnesota employment law firm located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.