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Returning to Work After Medical Leave

returning to work after medical leave

Employees often need to take extended periods off work. Sometimes, they may have complications during their pregnancy, are injured, or have illnesses that can take a while to recover from.

In this case, returning to work after medical leave may require some additional effort beyond just showing back up at work. In some cases, companies will be required to temporarily place someone else in their position.

The question of their eligibility for paid time off also needs to be addressed. Furthermore, if the period they are away was unclear, they may find that their employer has replaced them entirely.

returning to work after medical leave

Your Rights

You have rights as an employee but within limits. You should be allowed to return to work if you have Family and Medical Leave (FML) under the FML Act.

This leave is given to employees that have worked for the same employer for at least a year, or at least 1250 hours, whichever comes first. This will entitle you to at least 12 weeks of unpaid time off. If you are on FML, you may submit a claim for unemployment benefits.

Depending on the reason why you were on medical leave, you may be unable to perform the same duties as before, albeit permanently or temporarily. Many companies will assign lighter work duties for the time being.

Different Situations for Returning to Work

This is where you will have to defer to your labor union if applicable. That’s because every state has different medical leave rules and negotiations with unions. For example:

  • A company may be allowed to dissolve the employment agreement without reason or cause.
  • An employer may keep you on but assign a different role and renegotiate your salary.
  • You may be able to negotiate terms around lighter duties temporarily.
  • If your injury was caused in the line of duty, you might be entitled to workman’s compensation and/or disability checks for ongoing recovery.

The Ethical Thing To Do

For whatever reason you were on medical leave, you would surely like to protect your workplace relationships. You are surely entitled to recover in peace. However, there are some things you may want to take note of to keep your employer at ease.

If and when capable…

Send an email with a run-down on any tasks that may require some instruction for others to do in your absence. This would typically refer to login details to enter a platform or system. Or could include ways to avoid common pitfalls in the task, such as “be mindful of the image sizing, as larger images may influence the website speeds.”

It would also be helpful to provide a copy of your calendar, any deadlines that may need to be met, and who you think would be best to take on any emergent tasks.

A status report on your recovery is helpful…

You don’t have to divulge any of your medical information. But, you can state whether or not you are on track with recovery milestones.

You should also declare your intended return date as soon as you can. This way, your employer can delegate tasks if need be or find a temp worker to help out.

If you are going to miss the return date, you should inform your employer as soon as possible. However, if you are clear and concise, your employer should have no reason to resent you for messing around with their planning.

Do You Need Some Time Off?

If so, you may enjoy our handy articles on How To Appropriately Call Out of Work, Good Excuses to Miss Work on Short Notice, The Best Excuses to Leave Work Early, and How to Answer “Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?” for more useful information.

Also, check out The Essential Guide to Family & Medical Leave, The FMLA Compendium, a Comprehensive Guide, The FMLA Handbook, HR Helper: The Family and Medical Leave Act, and Fixing Parental Leave for more great info on understanding taking time off work.

Or, have a look at The Working Mom’s Handbook, She’s Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work, Back to Work After Baby, Taking Your Griefcase to Work, Returning To Work After Your Career Break, and Expert Resumes for People Returning to Work which are all currently available online.


You can not plan injuries or healthcare. It is something you need to take when needed, with only some preventative care.

However, even the healthiest people may suffer an unforeseen medical emergency. Therefore, it is not beneficial to stress yourself out about it being “a bad time to get sick.” There is never a good time.

Focus on recovering, and don’t feel like you owe your employer a daily update, but tell them what will benefit everyone the most. This will ensure that returning to work will not be anything to worry about.

Until next time, work smarter, not just harder.

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