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Employment Law Alert: Seventh Circuit Says Employee Is Not Entitled To Full-Duty Pay While In Light-Duty Assignment Under FMLA

On August 6, the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion in which it rejected an employee’s claim -- brought under the FMLA -- that she was entitled to receive full-duty pay for the time she spent working in a light-duty assignment. The employee, Susan Hendricks, was employed by Compass Group USA Inc. as a utility driver. After sustaining a rotator cuff injury at work, she was reassigned to a light duty assignment (office work) under Compass’ workers’ compensation program. While in this assignment, Hendricks received $9 per hour, instead of the $12.23 per hour she usually received when performing duties as a utility truck driver. She eventually sued Compass under the FMLA, claiming that she was entitled to receive her full-duty pay while performing the light-duty assignment. She sought to recover the difference in pay between her regular pay rate and the light-duty rate for the entire time she performed the light duty assignment.

The Court rejected this claim, noting that the FMLA -- which generally provides for unpaid leave -- does not itself require that light-duty work be provided. However, if an employer offers such assignments under a workers’ compensation or some other program, the employee is free to either accept the assignment or remain off work on an unpaid FMLA leave. There is no requirement under the FMLA for an employee to be restored to another position if he/she is unable to perform the essential functions of his/her regular position because of a physical or mental condition. Nor is there any requirement, said the Court, that light-duty assignments voluntarily offered by an employer be at the same rate of pay as the employee’s regular job.

Bottom Line

This decision is obviously a good one from the employer’s standpoint, especially those who, like Compass, offer light-duty assignments under a workers’ compensation program. This Court made it clear that such assignments may be compensated at a lower rate without running afoul of the FMLA.



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