What Do You Think: Did Workers’ Comp Process Interfere with Housekeeper’s FMLA Rights?

Frank Ferreri

Atlanta, GA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Workers’ compensation processes and Family and Medical Leave Act rights aren’t mutually exclusive.

As a federal appeals court recently addressed, sometimes the two areas of law overlap, creating parallel legal standards for employers to follow.

A housekeeper for a cleaning company experienced a knee injury at work. The company gave her “a few days off” and provided a temporary light-duty assignment to her. When the housekeeper received medical clearance to resume her regular duties, the company required her to pass an essential functions test.

The test involved repeatedly engaging in deep squats and bending to one knee. Although the housekeeper was able to perform several of the exercises, she began to experience pain in the injured knee before she finished the test.

As a result, the company terminated her. Prior to her termination, the company did not advise the housekeeper about the FMLA nor did it provide her with an opportunity to take FMLA leave. Instead, the company handled the housekeeper’s injury as a workers’ compensation claim and required the housekeeper to use sick leave when she need to take 11 days off following the at-work injury.

Following her termination, the housekeeper settled her workers’ compensation claim with the company, and she sued under the FMLA.

In particular, the housekeeper charged that the company interfered with her right to take FMLA leave. The court determined that the housekeeper was not entitled to FMLA benefits because she did not have a medical condition to take leave for.

The housekeeper appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

To establish an FMLA interference claim, an employee must show that she was entitled to an FMLA benefit and the employer denied it. Under 29 CFR 825.300(e), failing to provide an employee with notice of her FMLA rights may constitute FMLA interference.

Did the company interfere with the housekeeper’s right to take FMLA leave?

  1. Yes. The housekeeper filed a workers’ compensation claim about her injury, which activated the company’s duty to provide notice of her FMLA rights.
  2. No. By handling the worker’s injury through its workers’ compensation system, the company placed the housekeeper in a position where she didn’t need FMLA leave.

If you chose A, you agreed with the court in Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems LLC, No. 19-13461 (11th Cir. 04/06/21), which held that the housekeeper demonstrated FMLA interference because the company had information about the housekeeper’s need for emergency medical and follow-up treatment.

Citing 29 CFR 825.702(d)(2), the 11th Circuit rejected the company’s defense that it handled the injury through its workers’ compensation process, meaning that the FMLA wasn’t involved.

“[The company] cannot exempt itself from its FMLA notice obligations by offering [the housekeeper] paid workers’ compensation from the date of her injury … through her return to light-duty work,” the court wrote. “In fact, the FMLA regulations contemplate this scenario and specify that ‘the workers’ compensation absence and FMLA leave may run concurrently.”

As a result, the 11th Circuit found that a jury could determine that the company interfered with the housekeeper’s FMLA rights, so it reversed the lower court’s ruling in the company’s favor.

This feature does not provide legal advice.

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