When an employee suffers a serious illness or injury, there may be more than one option for obtaining time off to recover. Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees are allowed to take off up to 12 weeks each year for a qualifying event. If an illness or injury was work-related, the employee may also be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
In Alabama, most employers with five or more employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides “no-fault” coverage for work-related injuries or illnesses, meaning you do not have to establish fault in order to receive benefits. In exchange for the no-fault provision, employees are generally prevented from suing their employer (because of their injuries).
The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal program that serves different purposes than worker’s compensation, which is a program that is administered on the state level. Although there are significant differences between the two programs, there are also times when both are applicable to an employee’s situation.
The FMLA is a federal law that was implemented in 1993. And as mentioned earlier, it provides employees with up to 12 weeks of protected leave each year, provided they take leave for a qualifying reason. Qualifying reasons for FMLA include:
- The birth of a new child or to care for a newborn;
- The placement of a child for adoption or foster care with the employee, or to provide care for the newly placed child;
- To provide care for the spouse, child, or parent of an employee who has a severe health condition;
- For an employee to attend to a severe health condition that makes them unable to perform their job.
The last reason – for an employee to attend to a severe health condition – is the reason that will sometimes qualify an employee for both FMLA and workers’ comp.
How do Workers’ Compensation and FMLA differ?
Aside from the fact that workers’ comp is a state-run program while the FMLA is a federal law, these programs differ in some other ways as well. First of all, FMLA leave is available to any employee who develops a serious health condition – regardless of whether or not the condition is work-related. Workers’ comp, on the other hand, is only available to covered employees whose illnesses or injuries are work-related. This means that an employee who is eligible for workers’ comp benefits is very often also eligible for FMLA leave.
Another difference between the two programs is that time off under the FMLA is unpaid (although employers do have the option to provide paid leave) while workers’ comp provides coverage for medical bills, two-thirds of gross wages, and some other benefits along with receiving time off from work. Receiving these benefits is essential, especially for employees who are the primary breadwinners in their household.
The third difference is that the FMLA provides “protected” leave, meaning the employer must allow the employee to return to his or her previous job (or an equivalent) after the 12 weeks is up. No such protection exists for employees who are out of work while receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
An employer cannot terminate you because you suffered a work-related injury, or in retaliation for filing a workers’ comp claim, but this does not mean an employer cannot eliminate your position, lay you off for another reason, or bring you back to a job that is different from the one you had previously.
Do I Have to Take FMLA and Workers’ Compensation Leave at the Same Time?
If an employee is eligible for time off under both the FMLA and workers’ compensation, the two programs can run concurrently, meaning that both would be in effect at the same time. This does not happen automatically, however – an employer must inform an employee in writing that their FMLA leave has begun, and FMLA cannot be charged retroactively prior to the date the written notice was provided. One thing in employer is not allowed to do is force an employee to take FMLA leave instead of workers’ compensation leave when the employee is eligible for workers’ comp.
There are advantages and disadvantages to taking FMLA and workers’ compensation leave at the same time. The obvious disadvantage is that you are using up your FMLA leave, which means you would not have it available later in the year if you needed it. On the plus side, however, you receive a lot more job protection by using FMLA, which of course is very important for all employees.
Speak with an Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Birmingham, AL
When an employee is injured on the job or suffers a work-related illness, they may be eligible for both workers’ compensation and FMLA. These programs serve different purposes, however, and it can be very confusing trying to make sense of the two and how they intertwine when both are applicable. To further complicate things, some employers have been known to put up unnecessary roadblocks in an attempt to frustrate employees into giving up on receiving workers’ comp benefits even when they are entitled to them.
If you need any type of help with obtaining workers’ compensation benefits in Alabama, contact Burge & Burge for assistance. Our lawyers have extensive experience with workers’ comp claims, and we have helped countless clients successfully navigate the complexities of this program. Call our office today at 205-251-9000 or message us online to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team. We look forward to serving you!