FMLA and Workers’ Compensation: Working Together

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and workers’ compensation serve different purposes, but the job leave provided by the two may overlap in some cases, affecting employment decisions on issues such as light duty.

FMLA provides employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for certain qualifying reasons, such as a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of his or her job. FMLA generally applies to employees of businesses with at least 50 employees, and, under FMLA, employees are entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for qualifying circumstances.

Workers’ compensation offers medical coverage and income replacement following a work-related injury. Workers’ comp laws often vary from state to state. If an injury that qualifies for workers’ compensation also falls under FMLA-protected health conditions, leave for the two can overlap.

If an employer is covered by FMLA, it should take the time to determine if workers’ compensation leave would also qualify under FMLA as leave for a serious health condition. If it does, the employer should begin the FMLA process immediately and run the FMLA and workers’ comp leave concurrently.

If the employer does not begin the FMLA leave immediately, the employee may end up entitled to more leave than he or she otherwise would have been if the two had run concurrently. In addition, if the employee is away from work for more than 12 weeks under workers’ comp, he or she no longer has job-protected leave after the 12 weeks of FMLA leave end. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may apply, so employers should be careful about automatic termination after 12 weeks of leave.

Another issue that is affected by FMLA and workers’ comp overlap is the possibility of the employee returning to light duty. If an employee who has both leaves running concurrently declines light duty under workers’ comp, he or she may lose those benefits, but the employee would continue to have job-protected leave under FMLA.

When an employee suffers a serious health condition that qualifies him or her for both workers’ compensation and FMLA leave, employers should make sure to consider requirements under both to avoid potential problems.

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