Lessons from Wayland v. OSF Healthcare System, FMLA and Performance Standards

by Lana L. Rupprecht, Esq. - AVP Product Compliance

March 07, 2024


Is an employer obligated to adjust its performance standards for employees who are taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? The answer is yes, as the 7th Circuit recently confirmed in Wayland v. OSF Healthcare System (Feb. 28, 2024).

In Wayland, the employee, Marianne Wayland (Wayland), a manager, worked for OSF Healthcare System (OSF), a multisite healthcare provider.

Although OSF stated it terminated Wayland for performance reasons, Wayland claimed that the performance standards were not adjusted to account for the FMLA leave she was taking.

Here is a summary of the case.

The Facts

Wayland managed OSF's Institute of Learning, which trained employees to help integrate and absorb new hospitals into OSF. OSF started expanding quickly which resulted in shorter deadlines and timeframes to complete goals and objectives. Despite this, Wayland, prior to taking FMLA leave, received positive performance reviews even though the Institute of Learning was struggling to meet accelerated deadlines.

Starting in October 2018, OSF approved Wayland's request for continuous and intermittent medical leave under the FMLA. OSF and Wayland disputed the amount of leave Wayland used. OSF claimed she took about 10 days, but Wayland claimed she took about 6 weeks of work.

About one month after Wayland stopped taking FMLA intermittent leave, OSF put her on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). OSF told Wayland the PIP was not formal, did not require her to sign anything and did not tell Wayland that deficient performance under the PIP could or would jeopardize her job.

According to the court opinion, Wayland met most but not all of the deadlines under the PIP, and as a result, was fired shortly thereafter for poor performance.

The Lawsuit

Wayland brought a lawsuit claiming FMLA interference and retaliation. Wayland argued that OSF should have adjusted its performance expectations to reflect her reduced hours work schedule taken due to FMLA.

The lower district court dismissed the case, but Wayland appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed stating that if a jury were to accept Wayland's evidence as true, "she would prevail."

The Law

Under the FMLA, employers are prohibited from both "interfering with" and "retaliating against" an employee due their use of leave.

The Court found that OSF's conduct may be considered interference if it denied Wayland benefits under the FMLA and also retaliation if OSF fired her because she took leave. The Court noted that while the FMLA does not require that an employer adjust its performance standards for the time an employee is actually on the job, an employer is required to adjust performance standards to avoid penalizing an employee for being absent during approved leave.

The Court concluded as follows:

  • OSF did not adjust Wayland's performance standards to reflect the time she was away on FMLA leave and should have done so.
  • Since there was a dispute over the amount of FMLA leave Wayland took (6 weeks versus 10 days), a jury needed to determine the necessary adjustment of performance standards.

Lessons for Employers

  • The dispute over the amount of FMLA time Wayland took was important. Employers should have the amount of leave employees take well documented and recorded in their official records.
  • Adjust performance standards for employees who are out on FMLA leave!
  • Look at an employee's prior performance history before making a termination decision. It did not help OSF in the case that Wayland's performance reviews before she took FMLA were good!
  • And of course, before terminating an employee who is taking or recently returned from FMLA leave, talk to your employment attorney!

Reliance Matrix Can Help!

Reliance Matrix offers employers leave administration, including federal and state family and medical leave solutions and accommodation services. For more information, contact your Reliance Matrix account manager or send us a message to [email protected].

Through its insurance and administrative services entities, Reliance Matrix offers integrated leave management services involving the FMLA, state-mandated paid family and medical leave and accommodation solutions. Product features and availability may vary by state. For more information, please contact your Reliance Matrix account manager, or reach us at [email protected].