Case: Workers’ comp and FMLA
Key to remember: An employee may be entitled to benefits and rights under both workers’ compensation and FMLA for an occupational injury or illness
Applies to: All public employers and private employers with 50 or more employees.
Impact to customers: One event may involve multiple laws and employers must avoid focusing only on one law, as is the case with occupational injuries.
Case in point
Employees injured at work may have rights and protections under multiple laws. Workers’ compensation allows employees to receive payments for all reasonable medical care and lost wages resulting from that injury. FMLA, on the other hand, provides for job-protected, unpaid leave. The two laws often go hand-in-hand, and employers can’t generally argue that providing one is enough. Such is the story of a recent court case.
Nadine seriously injured her knee while at work, resulting in the need for some time off. The employer handled the situation as a workers’ comp claim but did not provide Nadine with any FMLA information.
After almost two weeks of follow-up appointments and physical therapy per the workers’ comp claim, Nadine was released to light duty, with restrictions. With more therapy, she was released to full duty, but the doctor was never told what Nadine’s regular duties were. On top of that, neither the doctor nor Nadine were told that company policy required Nadine to complete an essential-functions test upon her return to work or what that test entailed or the consequences for failure.
Nadine failed the test, which aggravated the injury, and was terminated.
While Nadine and the employer eventually settled the workers’ comp claim, Nadine did file suit claiming that the employer interfered with her FMLA rights.
The employer argued that it complied with its workers compensation obligations, so it should have no FMLA liabilities.
The court indicated that providing workers’ compensation benefits does not absolve an employer of all FMLA obligations. The employer had information that pointed to Nadine needing time off for an FMLA serious health condition (per the workers’ comp records), but it did not take any FMLA steps, including providing Nadine with an eligibility/rights & responsibilities notice.
The case was allowed to proceed to a jury.
The employer also tried to argue that providing an FMLA notice would not have mattered as Nadine needed more than 12 weeks of leave before being able to return to work and perform the essential-functions test. That possibility, however, does not matter.
Key takeaway: Workers’ comp can, and often must, run concurrently with FMLA leave, so don’t forget to look at all applicable laws regarding a workplace injury.
Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-13461, April 6, 2021
This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.
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