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Part-Time Work During Medical Leave

June 13, 2008

Antonina Lonicki began working for Sutter Health Central in 1989, became a certified technician in 1993, and in 1999 began working part time at Kaiser Permanente in a similar position. After Lonicki obtained a doctor’s note for a one-month leave of absence, Sutter’s doctor determined that Lonicki was able to return without restriction. Lonicki was told to return to work by August 9, or she would be terminated.

She stated she would return on August 27 per her doctor and continued to see a psychologist through August. Sutter sent a letter stating it would give Lonicki paid time off until August 23. Lonicki’s psychologist wrote her a note stating that she was "disabled by major depression" and should not return until September 26.

Lonicki was terminated by Sutter, but she continued to work part time for Kaiser during her leave of absence. While Lonicki’s work at Kaiser was similar, it was "slower."

Lonicki filed suit in the Sacramento County Superior Court against Sutter for violation of the California Family Rights Act. The court dismissed the case, stating that Lonicki’s part-time employment with Kaiser while on leave demonstrated that she was able to perform her job at Sutter. The California Court of Appeals affirmed. Lonicki appealed.

The California Supreme Court held that Lonicki’s employment with Kaiser was "strong evidence that she was capable of doing her full-time job. … But that evidence is not dispositive, as it is contradicted by [Lonicki’s] treating psychologist." Lonicki v. Sutter Health Cent., Cal., No. S130839, (4/7/08).

Impact: Continued employment with another employer during medical leave may not foreclose employees from taking family leave under state or federal law. Employers are advised that they should defer to medical opinion, and request second opinions or clarification if necessary.

Workforce Management, June 9, 2008, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!