Friday, May 23, 2014

Court of Appeal Rules Employer May Seek a Second Doctor's Opinion About Fitness for Duty After Employee Returns from FMLA Leave

On March 15, 2014, the California Court of Appeal in White v. County of Los Angeles held an employer may order a second fitness for duty evaluation after the employee returns from medical leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").  Under the FMLA, an employee must be reinstated to work after being cleared by the employee's medical provider.  However, once reinstated, the employer may then order the employee to submit to an additional fitness for duty evaluation.

The White case involved a Senior District Attorney Investigator with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.  After the investigator's brother-in-law passed away, she began having trouble at work.  The County was concerned with her work performance and questioned her judgment on occasions she was working in the field.  She took FMLA leave on June 6, 2011 to seek treatment for anxiety and depression.  After treatment, her medical provider determined she could return to work on September 7, 2011.

Upon the investigator's return, the County ordered her to appear for a medical evaluation conducted by a County-designated medical provider.  She did not attend the scheduled fitness for duty evaluation.  She then filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the County from ordering her to attend the fitness for duty evaluation.  She argued the County violated her right under the FMLA to be restored to employment upon her doctor's certification alone.

The Court of Appeal held that under the FMLA, the employer must accept the employee's physician's certification for reinstatement.  However, after reinstatement, the FMLA protections no longer apply.  At that time, the employer may require an additional fitness for duty evaluation even if it is based on conduct occurring before the FMLA leave.  Since she had been officially reinstated to her position before the County ordered the fitness for duty evaluation, the County could legally order the evaluation.