Workers’ compensation and the Family Medical Leave Act
Henrietta was still poring over the latest analytics on a department’s employee engagement levels when the phone rang. It was Rodney, one of the company’s managers, indicating that he had just sent Marvin, an employee, to the hospital after a workplace incident involving a forklift and a quart of ice cream. Henrietta and Rodney discussed the situation, including the workers compensation (WC) and the OSHA recordable implications, to make sure they had everything covered from a safety standpoint. She thanked Rodney for the information, and hung up. After a few minutes, however, she began to wonder whether the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) might also be involved. Marvin’s injury was fairly serious, as he would likely be kept overnight at the hospital.
Often, a situation occurs in which an employee has rights, benefits, or protections under multiple laws at the same time. Such is the case with WC and the FMLA. The two laws may apply, and they provide for very different benefits, even though it might simply appear that the employee is not at work.
For purposes of WC, when an employee is injured or made ill at work, he or she receives partial income while off work, and no-cost treatment for the condition. These benefits are not available for conditions that are not work-related, such as if Marvin had fallen off a ladder while trimming his overgrown shrubbery at home.
The FMLA, on the other hand, provides for job-protected, unpaid leave, and the continuation of group health care coverage while an employee is on leave. The source of the injury or illness does not matter. Therefore, occupational-related conditions could be covered, as well as others. Eligible employees may also take FMLA leave to care for reasons other than the employee’s own condition.
An employee’s WC condition could very well rise to the level of an FMLA serious health condition, but much would depend upon the specific facts involved. Generally, the state WC agency decides whether the employee is entitled to benefits. Under the FMLA, on the other hand, the condition would need to meet the regulatory definition of a serious health condition, and you would need to determine if it did.
To help make this determination, you may request an FMLA certification supporting the need for leave. If, however, you receive information from an alternate source (such as a WC health care provide), you should not ask for more. In some situations you might not receive information from a WC health care provider in a timely manner. If it would take more than the FMLA’s 15 days to get the information, you might ask the employee for an FMLA certification.
The FMLA is an employee entitlement law. Employees are entitled to FMLA protections even if you failed to provide them. If, for example, you provided only the WC benefits to Marvin and did not provide the FMLA protections, Marvin could file a claim that you interfered with his FMLA rights.
To make a long story short, if a workplace incident involves WC, you should assess whether it also involves the FMLA. If so, treat it as you would any FMLA notice of the need for leave. Failure to do so could result in your company defending its actions in court. To help avoid this, don’t forget to look at the big employment law picture.
You may also enjoy the following articles:
A tale of two FMLA policies
Are FMLA changes in the future?
FMLA retaliation protections continue after leave is exhausted
The J. J. Keller FMLA Manager service is your business resource for tracking employee leave and ensuring compliance with the latest Federal and State FMLA requirements.
Start Your Free Trial View Demo