TOP TIP: Employers – Don’t Forget the FMLA When Dealing with Workers’ Comp (And Other Medical Leaves)!


A recent case reminds employers of the need to comply with their obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act in workers’ compensation situations. Sadly, there are many instances in which employers do not think or remember to provide the required FMLA notices and designations when an employee is on workers’ compensation leave for an on-the-job injury, or some other formal health-related leave like short-term disability. But those medical situations can certainly constitute serious health conditions under the FMLA, and the failure to comply with the FMLA’s requirements can lead to liability.

WC and FMLA May Overlap. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit noted, FMLA provides eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of leave to recover from serious injury, and employers may not interfere with, restrain, or deny an employee’s FMLA rights. Workers’ compensation is required by most states to provide the costs of medical care and lost wages arising from a work-related injury. And “[s]ometimes the benefits of these laws can overlap.”

Case Background. In Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC, the employee sustained an on-the-job injury to her knee, which was treated solely as a workers’ compensation event. After eleven days of leave, during which she used her sick leave, she then returned to temporary light duty. She was subsequently released to full duty, although her doctor was not fully aware of her job responsibilities. She was required to undergo an essential functions test before returning to her position. Because of her knee, she was unable to pass the test. She was then terminated from employment, despite her request to take additional sick leave or vacation for further recovery. At no time was she informed of her FMLA rights, and she was never given the opportunity to take FMLA leave to fully recover from her knee injury.

The employee sued for interference with her FMLA rights. The employer argued that it was not liable under the FMLA due to its compliance with its workers’ compensation obligations. However, as the Eleventh Circuit flatly asserted, “providing workers’ compensation benefits cannot absolve an employer of all obligations under the FMLA.”

FMLA Notices Are Required for Any Potentially Qualifying Condition. The Eleventh Circuit found that the employer certainly had sufficient knowledge that the employee’s injury was potentially FMLA-qualifying. That knowledge triggers the employer’s obligation to provide notice to the employee of her eligibility for and rights under the FMLA within a certain timeframe. Moreover, under the FMLA regulations, the failure to provide the requisite notices may constitute interference with the employee’s FMLA rights. The Eleventh Circuit stated that the employer could not exempt itself from those notice obligations by providing workers’ compensation leave, noting that the regulations contemplate that a workers’ compensation absence and FMLA leave may run concurrently.

Employees May Choose Leave in Lieu of Light Duty. The Eleventh Circuit also rejected the employer’s argument that the employee’s acceptance of a light duty position relieved it of any further FMLA obligation. In fact, the regulations specifically provide that an employer may not require an employee to take a light duty job in lieu of FMLA leave to which they are entitled. An employee who opts for leave over light duty may lose their right to workers’ compensation, but their right to the leave continues through the 12 weeks.

What’s the Harm? Additionally, an employee is entitled to relief for interference with their FMLA rights only where they have suffered harm due to the interference. In this case, had the employee known of her rights, she could have taken leave to get additional treatment before returning to work, rather than failing the essential functions test and being terminated. Moreover, she could have taken the paid leave that she requested and was denied, as it would have run concurrently with her FMLA.

Lesson for Employers. The lesson here is for employers to make sure that they provide the required FMLA notices when an employee has a condition that could potentially qualify them for FMLA leave, even if other leaves and benefits also apply – including workers’ compensation, short-term disability, and long-term disability.