In Quigley v. Meritus Health, Inc., a court held that a hospital’s decision to change shift requirements which affected a worker on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave did not constitute unlawful interference. In this case, an ultrasound technician who was on FMLA leave was the hospital’s only technician who had a set schedule, working 8 hours per day Wednesday through Sunday. The hospital implemented a requirement that all ultrasound techs work rotating schedules so as to have an ultrasound technician available to patients 24 hours per day. This regulation affected the employee on leave more than any other worker as the employee was the only ultrasound tech on a set schedule at the time that the change went into effect. The technician learned about the change during her leave and objected to its implementation and refused to return to work. She was subsequently separated from employment and later filed suit.
The court’s finding was based upon the fact that the decision to implement the rotating shift policy was in the works before the employee took leave and had no apparent connection to her need for FMLA leave. The decision was based upon an evidenced need presented by the hospital. Although it did affect this employee more than others, there was no evidence that the policy was implemented in order to punish or otherwise negatively impact her employment. Although employees usually have the “right to restoration” (being returned to the same shift or schedule that they had before they took leave), the court found that this right was not absolute, and that the change to the shift policy was related to genuine business needs.
The takeaway from this case is that even while an employee is on leave, your practice’s needs continue to grow and change. Sometimes this may mean that changes which affect employees will take place while those employees are on FMLA leave. Supporting your business decisions with adequate consideration and documentation can help to protect your practice from unlawful interference claims by employees, as long as those decisions can be shown to be necessary and designed to meet the changing needs of your business. Lastly, we recommend consulting with an employment law attorney prior to making any changes that may affect your employees.