When an employee becomes injured or suffers an illness, s/he has multiple options for getting the time off needed to treat the condition. Two of these options are workers’ compensation leave and time off through the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These two programs serve similar purposes, but they differ in some significant ways. Many employees wonder what happens to them when these two programs overlap.
The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law created in 1993 that gives employees who work for organizations with 50 or more employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period. Unpaid leave may be granted under FMLA for any of the following reasons:
- Giving birth to a child and/or caring for a newborn;
- Placement of a child with the employee for adoption and caring for the newly adopted child;
- Dealing with a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his/her job;
- Caring for the spouse, child, or parent of an employee when the loved one has a serious health condition.
Under the FMLA, an employee’s job is protected during the time that s/he is out of work. When the leave is over, the employer must allow the employee to return to his/her job or to another job that is equivalent.
Understanding Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation is a program that allows employees to receive treatment and benefits when they suffer an injury or illness due to a work-related accident. The program provides compensation for medical expenses, two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly gross pay for time missed from work, and in some cases, compensation for a partial or total permanent disability.
Workers’ compensation benefits are only paid for accidents that occur during the course of employment, regardless of fault. There are a few exceptions to the “no fault” provision, such as accidents that result from willful employee misconduct, accidents resulting from an employee being drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs on the job, and an employee’s intention to due himself/herself harm.
Workers’ compensation laws vary from state to state. In Alabama, most employers with five or more employees are required to carry workers’ comp insurance. Most employees in Alabama also have “at will” employment. This means that an employee can be terminated for any reason, and employees can also resign for any reason or no reason at all. Unless you have an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement stating otherwise, you are most likely an “at will” employee. This also means that employees who take time off to treat a workers’ compensation-related injury do not have job protection.
Though there is no requirement to hold an employee’s job under workers’ compensation, employers are not allowed to terminate an employee in retaliation for reporting a workplace injury and/or filing a workers’ comp claim. Employers will almost never cite this as the reason for termination, but if you suspect that you may have been terminated because of your workers’ compensation claim, you should compile as much evidence as possible and speak to an experienced employment law attorney.
When FMLA and Workers’ Compensation Overlap
If an employee is required to miss work due to a serious health condition, the provisions of both FMLA and workers’ compensation could be applicable. In such cases, the provisions of both laws can run concurrently; meaning that they would both be in effect at the same time. If an employer does require an employee to take FMLA leave, they must notify the employee in writing. FMLA leave begins on the date the employer provides written notice to the employee; they cannot charge employees retroactively against their FMLA for leave already taken before the written notice was provided.
Because FMLA provides more job protection than workers’ compensation, it might be in the employee’s best interests to utilize both programs at the same time. Job security is important, and by using FMLA concurrently with workers’ comp, you can ensure that your position (or an equivalent position) will be there when you come back from leave.
Speak with a Seasoned Attorney to Discuss your Options
The workers’ compensation and FMLA laws can be confusing, especially when the two laws converge, which is usually the case when an Alabama worker suffers a serious health condition resulting from a workplace accident. To further complicate matters, some employers throw up roadblocks or deny workers’ comp benefits outright. When you need help understanding these laws and getting approved for benefits, it is best to talk with a skilled attorney.
At Alsobrook Jackson, Attorneys at Law, we have extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of workers’ comp and FMLA laws, and we have helped numerous Alabama workers who have had trouble accessing the benefits they deserve. If you are anywhere in Opelika, Auburn, or throughout Alabama, call us today at 334-737-3718 for a free consultation.