One employer recently learned a hard lesson — Ignoring FMLA rights for employees injured at-work can get you sued! When people think about work-related accidents and injuries, they always think workers’ compensation. They should. Work comp provides necessary medical care and disability benefits. But, don’t forget the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may also provide important leave and job protections for injured and ill employees.
What Does The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Provide?
What benefits are provided by FMLA? The FMLA provides eligible employees up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in a year. The FMLA also entitles covered employees to return to their same or an equivalent job after this leave.
Who is covered by the FMLA? To be eligible, an employee and his employer must meet several requirements. For example, the employee must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles. The employee must work at the company for a year and meet the hours of service requirement in order to be eligible. If you have questions about those requirements, I’m happy to discuss them. But, these requirements are not the topic of today’s post.
Workers Compensation And FMLA Both Apply To Work-Related Injuries
Does the FMLA apply to workers injured on-the-job? Yes, it can.
Because of the differences in covered employers, the two laws often do not interact. After all, Alabama law broadly requires work comp benefits. With just a few employees, you must provide workers’ compensation coverage to your employees in Alabama. On the other hand, the FMLA only applies to larger employers. So, for many work-related accidents and injuries, FMLA coverage is not an issue. However, if you work for a larger employer covered by FMLA, you should keep it in mind!
One Employer Recently Learned A Hard Lesson About FMLA And Work-Related Accidents
Oops! In a recent 11th Circuit decision, a Georgia hospital learned a difficult FMLA lesson. That case was Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC.
What happened? Noorjahan Ramji worked in housekeeping for a hospital in Georgia. One morning, she tripped and fell at work. She injured her knee.
Sounds like a routine work-related accident and injury. It was. I’ve handled more of those cases than I can count in courts across Alabama. But, it’s always important to see if additional legal rights apply!
The hospital treated the accident solely as a work comp claim. The hospital provided a doctor who treated the injured knee with an injection and a little therapy. After a short period of time, the work comp doctor placed Ramji at maximum medical improvement (MMI) and released her to regular duty. I definitely have some questions about Ramji’s medical care and work comp benefits. Honestly, I have some concerns about the quick treatment and release. Many injured employees are rushed through the system by work comp without proper care or rehabilitation. But, that’s not the topic of this post.
When the doctor placed Ramji at MMI, he did NOT know the hospital required injured employees to pass a rigorous “essential functions test” in order to actually return to work. Ramji was also unaware of this requirement.
Ramji could not complete the essential function test due to her knee injury and was fired. After her termination, she hired a work comp attorney who helped obtain additional medical care for her. After some additional treatment and physical therapy, she was able to completely heal. Ramji settled her work comp claim. Then, she filed suit for FMLA benefits.
Did the hospital interfere with Ramji’s FMLA rights? First, the hospital NEVER told Ramji about her right to FMLA. That’s a big no-no. Under the FMLA, the employer had a duty to tell Ramji about her FMLA rights once it had notice she might potentially qualify.
An eligible employee is entitled to FMLA leave for a “serious health condition” as defined in the law. Ramji’s knee condition met those requirements.
Ramji should have been allowed her 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave. According to the medical evidence, that time period may have made a difference to her recovery and allowed her to return to her prior job. But, the hospital never told Ramji about her FMLA rights and never gave her that chance. Because of that, Ramji could claim she was harmed by the denial of FMLA.
Costly mistake! I’ve condensed a lot of the facts and issues in this recent 11th Circuit decision. But, the case provides an important reminder. If you suffer a work-related injury, you may have FMLA rights which could help your care and recovery. If you have questions about a work-related accident and injury, seek advice from an attorney who can help you navigate available benefits.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we help injured workers across Alabama. We’ve pursued workers’ compensation claims to trial and appeal for over two decades. We are happy to answer your questions. Our consultations are always free and confidential.