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Workers’ Compensation and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

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Coping with a serious medical problem is one of life’s biggest challenges. The stress is magnified when the illness or injury impedes a person’s ability to work. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects some categories of employees in the event of a medical or family emergency requiring a leave of absence.

For up to twelve weeks, employees can take unpaid leave while maintaining health benefits. FMLA also protects the employees’ right to return to the position; employers cannot be fired or laid off during an FMLA absence. In the case of a medical issue caused by a workplace injury, employees may wonder how FMLA will affect workers’ compensation benefits.

Overview of FMLA

FMLA exists to preserve a worker’s health benefits and provide job protection in the event of a personal or family medical issue or event. For employees to be eligible for FMLA, they must work for an employer who provides FMLA coverage. All public sector entities–state, federal, and local government agencies as well as schools–are required to provide FMLA. Some private sector employers, such as those who employ more than 50 employees, are also obligated.

Not all employees are qualified for FMLA. The law calls workers eligible when they have worked for the employer:

  • For a minimum of 12 months
  • Had at least 1,250 hours in the year before FMLA leave
  • Were at a location that employs more than 50 people or at a location within 75 miles of a site that employs more than 50 people

Situations that may be covered by FMLA include:

  • If an employee cannot work due to a severe illness or injury
  • The birth and care of a child
  • To care for an ill or injured member of the employee’s immediate family

FMLA and Workers’ Compensation

When a worker is injured on the job, FMLA can complicate workers’ compensation claims. Employers often prefer a worker take FMLA leave because this option costs less for the employer. Under FMLA, employers do not have to pay a worker’s wages. Workers’ compensation, however, dictates that an injured worker must be paid a percentage of his or her regular wages while unable to work.

In cases where FMLA and workers’ compensation benefits both apply, however, an employer cannot require that an employee use FMLA instead of workers’ compensation benefits. When a worker is qualified for both FMLA and workers’ compensation, employers must provide time off under whichever will give the employee the most comprehensive rights and benefits.

It is also crucial for employees to be informed about how workers’ comp and FMLA can run concurrently. In some situations, workers’ comp benefits can count toward an employee’s protected FMLA leave, leaving the employee with less FMLA leave. Employers are required to inform employees in writing if they will be counting time off under workers’ comp toward FMLA.

What to Do if Your Job Causes an Illness or Injury

If you have sustained an injury or illness on the job, you may have questions about the best course of action to protect your earning potential. Unfortunately, employers are sometimes looking out for their own best interests more than yours. If your employer has indicated that you are required to take FMLA for a work-related medical condition or has not explained your rights and benefits, seek legal advice from a law firm that specializes in workers’ compensation claims.

DiMarco Araujo Montevideo is one of southern California’s most experienced law firms with over thirty years of experience in workers’ compensation law. Contact our team of Orange County workers’ compensation attorneys today to discuss your case for free, or call us at (714) 783-2205.