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FMLA Does Not Require Employer to Agree to Altered Work Schedule or Work From Home

    Client Alerts
  • December 19, 2014
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to provide job-protected leave to eligible employees. Sometimes, employers receive FMLA requests from employees that involve shifts to the working schedule or other measures such as the ability to work from home. According to a new decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, employee FMLA rights are limited to leave, and do not extend to other types of work accommodations.

In Taylor-Novotny v. Health Alliance Medical Plans, Inc., the plaintiff was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She submitted an FMLA request stating that she needed to work from home three days a week, and have her remaining office schedule reduced to half days. In response to a request for medical certification, the plaintiff’s doctor stated that she needed intermittent leave for her condition as necessary to deal with symptoms and treatment.

The employer initially agreed to the work from home request, and informed the plaintiff that she was approved for intermittent FMLA leave when needed to deal with her condition. Any missed time, including half-day absences would be counted against her FMLA entitlement. The plaintiff objected to this arrangement, because it would have quickly exhausted her FMLA entitlement. She later requested that she be allowed to work from home full-time. The employer denied this request and subsequently terminated the plaintiff for tardiness and absenteeism. She sued, among other things, claiming violations of the FMLA and Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim on summary judgment. The court agreed that the plaintiff was not a qualified protected individual under the ADA because regular attendance and working from the office were essential job functions for her particular position. In terms of her FMLA claim, the Seventh Circuit concluded that the employer never denied the plaintiff’s leave requests. FMLA does not require the employer to alter the basic working arrangement to provide accommodations such as working from home. It only requires the employer to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The only requests denied by the employer in this case involved changes to this working relationship, and not any request for unpaid leave.

In these types of situations, the employer’s main emphasis will be on the ADA reasonable accommodation determination. In many cases, working from home or a reduced work schedule will be deemed reasonable changes to the job. However, in situations where such accommodations are not possible, employees cannot rely on the FMLA to require their employers to provide accommodations beyond unpaid leave.