Good evening and thank you for entrusting me to answer your question. I am very sorry to hear about your health problems and the difficult time your employer is giving you in returning back to work.
As you know, the FMLA only requires an employer to hold an employee's position for 12 weeks. If an employee can obtain a doctor's clearance that they are able to return to work prior to the expiration of the 12 week period, the employer has a legal obligation to return the employee to the same position they were in previously or an "equivalent" position.
Employers are permitted to require an employee to obtain a doctor's note certifying they are able to return to work before permitting the employee to come off of FMLA However, if an employee is unable to obtain a doctor's certification that they are able to work free from restrictions after the 12 week FMLA period has expired, they may have additional protections under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which requires California employers to "reasonably accommodate" disabled employees' health conditions.
A "disability" under FEHA is any condition which "impairs a major life function," and to the extent that Parkinsons is prohibiting you from returning to your normal job duties, it almost certainly qualifies as a "disability" pursuant to this definition.
If a person is “disabled” in accordance with the FEHA's definition, is having difficulty performing his/her job, and the employer knows that the reason for the difficulty is the employee’s disability, then the employer may have a duty to reasonably accommodate the employee, as long as it will not pose an undue burden on the employer to do so.
A "reasonable" accommodation may include an extension of FMLA leave
, a reasonable allowance of absence from work, or some sort of modified work assignments that will allow the employee to remain employed (i.e., work from home or duties that require less physical exertion).
Key here is that the accommodation be reasonable. An employer is only required to provide accommodations that do not impose undue hardship upon it. So, extensive absences far beyond the FMLA period or radically modified job assignments that strain the company would not be a requirement of the law.
Regardless of whether reasonable accommodations are achievable, an employer will ALWAYS be under a legal obligation to engage in an "interactive process" with the employee to determine whether accommodations that would allow the disabled employee to keep their job are feasible.
If your employer fails to engage in this interactive process, that in itself would constitute a violation of FEHA, which would typically be actionable. The fact is an employer cannot know that no accommodations are feasible if they do not make the effort to discuss options with the employee, so termination without engaging in an interactive process will typically be regarded by the courts as wrongful.
If it were me in this circumstance, I would write my employer a letter informing them that my condition constitutes a disability under FEHA and that I am entitled to reasonable accommodations, which include an extension of my protected FMLA leave and perhaps modification job duties, which do not require me to reach or bend.
If you believe that your employer has violated your FEHA rights in their denial of these accommodations, an individual in your circumstance can file a formal complaint of discrimination with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. (See here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints.htm
In short, your employer almost certainly cannot
legally terminate you the first day your FMLA expires. They must engage in an interactive process with you to determine how they can reasonably accommodate your health condition. Reasonable accommodations may include an extension of protected leave or modified job duties. A letter to your employer informing them that your condition qualifies for protection under FEHA and demanding that they discuss reasonable accommodtions with you would ordinarily be the best next step forward.
Please do not hesitate
to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.
If you do not require any further assistance, please be so kind as to provide a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you. Very best wishes to you and thank you so much for coming to Just Answer.