The Ninth Circuit rules that an employer has the burden of proving it had a legitimate reason for not reinstating an employee to her former position after taking a leave pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The Court also found that the employee need not demonstrate her employer lacked a reasonable basis for its refusal. Sanders v. City of Newport, No. 08-35996 (9th Cir. Mar. 17, 2011).
While an employee normally should be reinstated “to her original (or an equivalent) position” within the 12 week leave period under FMLA, the right of reinstatement is not absolute. The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) regulations provide that “[i]f the employee is unable to perform an essential function of the position because of a physical or mental condition . . . the employee has no right to restoration to another position under the FMLA.” 29 C.F.R. § 825.214(b). The regulations do not specify which party bears the burden of proof, and the Court had not previously addressed this issue. In the case, the Ninth Circuit found the burden of proof is on the employer to show it had a legitimate reason to deny reinstatement.
The Sanders decision illustrates that, while the right to reinstatement from FMLA leave is not absolute, an employer who denies reinstatement to an employee must be prepared to prove the employee had no such right. For more information, please see Employers Must Prove Reasons for Denying Reinstatement after FMLA Leave, Ninth Circuit Rules