Can you fire a staffer returning from leave?

June 15, 2007

Shortly after I bought a practice from a retiring physician, one of his staffers asked for a leave of absence for medical reasons. Now, after five months, she says she's ready to come back. We're managing fine without her. Can I terminate her?

Q: Shortly after I bought a practice from a retiring physician, one of his staffers asked for a leave of absence for medical reasons. Now, after five months, she says she's ready to come back. We're managing fine without her. Can I terminate her?

A: Maybe. Ask your attorney first. If you or your predecessor did anything to give her a reasonable expectation of reinstatement, you could be bound to take her back under state contract law.

Otherwise, the fact that you no longer need her is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to let her go. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)-which gives eligible employees the right to return to the same or an equivalent position after 12 weeks of leave-probably doesn't apply in your case. It covers businesses that have 50 or more employees. There are state laws similar to FMLA, so ask your attorney if they apply.