Court says inability to walk for four days is an FMLA serious health condition


Employers benefit from training supervisors

Training supervisors on how to handle leave requests can help avoid an expensive court case, as one employer learned.

After working in the warehouse for the company for about eight years, Curtis began having pain in his feet that substantially limited his ability to stand and walk for long periods of time. On July 28, 2021, a medical professional diagnosed him with plantar fasciitis and told him to stay off his feet for four days.

Employee asks for leave

Curtis told Jason, his supervisor, about the diagnosis and asked for leave on July 29 and 30, 2021. In response, Jason reminded Curtis that July 30, was a "truck day" — a busier than usual shift when employees unload trucks at the warehouse, and that if employees miss those days and "can't help [he doesn't] need them."

Curtis returned to work on August 2, 2021. He gave Jason a note from a medical provider, stating that Curtis should not stand for long periods for four more days and that he would need a follow-up appointment in a week.

Jason told Curtis that he should have come to work on July 30, 2021, and that he would talk to the company CEO about it. Three days later, the employer fired Curtis, who filed claims under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Court says employee had a serious health condition

In court, the employer asked that the FMLA claim be thrown out because the doctor's note said that Curtis could return to work on July 30, so he wasn't incapacitated for more than three days.

The court, however, indicated that the same note also stated that Curtis should have "[n]o prolonged standing for the next 4 days," and the permission to return to work in two days did not necessarily mean Curtis was physically able to resume his usual duties as a warehouse worker.

The court sided with Curtis, pointing out that, for purposes of the FMLA, he was incapacitated from his usual work as a warehouse worker for at least four days and that he received treatment for his impairment at least two times.

The employer also lost the ADA argument, as the court ruled that Curtis' plantar fasciitis was also a disability.

Rogers v. City of Greensboro ABC Board, Middle District of North Carolina, No. 1:23-CV-621, April 15, 2024

Key to Remember: Supervisors should be trained to know that employees have an FMLA serious health condition if they are unable to perform an essential function. Also, an FMLA serious health condition can be an ADA disability.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.


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