Most employees are familiar with the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and the Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA. Nearly every employee knows about Workers’ Compensation benefits. However, there are some misconceptions regarding these three laws and the differences in the protections they may provide to employees.
Employee protections afforded by these statutes
Basically, the FMLA makes it "unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise" any of the rights provided by the statute. This is often referred to as the "interference" provision. The ADA makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against “qualified” individuals with disabilities in making employment decisions such as hiring. Both of these statutes are federal law.
As for Workers’ Compensation, each state has its own statutes that govern benefits and employee rights. An Alabama employee has the right to Workers' Compensation benefits for a job-related injury or illness.
Can FMLA leave run concurrently with workers’ compensation leave?
Yes, your FLMA leave and your Workers’ Comp leave can run concurrently (meaning at the same time). Most employers will be more than willing to allow those leave periods to run concurrently so the FMLA leave can be used as soon as possible.
Is my employer required to offer light-duty work under Workers’ Comp and the ADA?
Clients often ask whether an employer that allows light duty to employees with workers’ comp injuries or illnesses is required to provide the same accommodation for employees with non-work-related ADA disabilities. The answer is yes. Although an employer is not required to offer light duty work in all cases, if it does then it would be required to offer that accommodation to employees with ADA disabilities on the same basis.
What happens if I refuse the light duty position that my employer offers?
It is not uncommon for an employee who is offered a light duty position under the FMLA to want to refuse that position. In those cases, many employees choose instead to take FMLA leave rather than work an unfavorable position. In those cases, the employer must allow the employee to take FMLA leave, as is their right. However, be aware that, if you also have a right to Workers’ Comp benefits for that same injury or illness, your employer may seek to have those benefits cut off.
What happens if an employee who is eligible for FMLA has a work-related injury or illness that results in an ADA-qualifying disability?
This type of situation would involve all three laws that provide protections to employees – the FMLA, the ADA, and Workers’ Comp. The proper response for an employer in this situation is to allow the employee to take all of the FMLA leave to which he or she is entitled. When the employee is ready to return to work (assuming he or she can’t return to full duty), the employer is required to participate in the interactive process with the employee in order to determine what reasonable accommodations can be provided. It is important to remember that an employer cannot simply offer you light duty work as an accommodation if it would not reasonably allow you to perform your job.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.