Employers: Modify Performance Expectations for Employees on FMLA Leave

A 2024 federal appeals court ruling highlights the importance of accounting for an employee’s approved Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave when conducting performance evaluations.

In Wayland v. OSF Healthcare System, Marianne Wayland argued that her former employer, OSF Healthcare, breached her rights under the FMLA and unjustly fired her because it declined to adjust her performance expectations while she was on FMLA leave and working fewer hours.
Specifically, Wayland claimed that despite her leave, her work deadlines remained intact, and her responsibilities increased as if she was working full-time. Furthermore, she alleged that OSF required her to meet specific goals with the assistance of a mentor, which she did not receive. Upon Wayland’s return to work, OSF implemented a performance improvement plan (PIP) for her and eventually terminated her, citing lack of performance.

After the lower court sided with OSF, finding that it justifiably terminated Wayland for her performance, she appealed. In an about-face move, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found a causal connection between Wayland’s leave and her termination, particularly because OSF instituted a PIP for Wayland a month after she returned.

The appeals court vacated the lower court’s decision and remanded the case for trial so that a jury could decide OSF’s motivations.
The FMLA states that an employer may not terminate an employee for falling short of performance expectations that aren’t modified to account for the employee’s leave. Any such action may be considered retaliation or unlawful interference.