According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, employers could be determined “guilty” for violating the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if they fail to provide employees with notice of their rights and protections under the FMLA in regards to workers’ compensation.
In April 2021, the 11th Circuit ruled that “providing workers’ compensation benefits cannot absolve an employer of all obligations under the FMLA” in the case of Ramji v. Hosp. Housekeeping Sys., LLC, No. 19-13461 (11th Cir. Apr. 6, 2021).
How did this determination come to pass?
The plaintiff, Noorjahan Ramji, worked for Hospital Housekeeping Systems (HHS) as a housekeeper in Snellville, Georgia. When Ramji injured her knee while at work in September 2016, HHS processed the injury as a workers’ compensation claim.
After receiving treatment, Ramji was released to return to light-duty work, followed by a full release to return to regular-duty work. In order to return to work after an injury, HHS employees are required to complete an “essential functions” test.
Unfortunately, Ramij’s pain caused her to be unable to complete the test.
Ramji then asked to use her sick and vacation days until she recovered more, and then retake the test. However, HHS insisted that she finish right then and there. When she was unable to complete the test, HHS fired her.
During this entire period, HHS failed to provide Ramji with information about her rights and options under the FMLA, including her eligibility for FMLA leave.
In response to Ramji’s claims, HHS argued that because she was cleared to work through the workers’ compensation process, the company had no reason to believe she required FMLA leave.
The 11th Circuit did not agree with HHS, finding that HHS fell short of the FMLA’s requirements in several ways.
First, HHS had sufficient notice that Ramji may have qualified for FMLA leave. Therefore, they were obligated to give her notice of her FMLA rights. If an employee has a serious enough injury that it meets FMLA’s standards, an employer is required to provide them with notice of their FMLA rights.
Secondly, if the employee can’t work due to the injury (or doesn’t think they can work), an employer might have to provide FMLA leave—even if the employee has been cleared to work by the treating physician.
Finally, if an employer has returned a recuperating employee to work on light-duty, the employee may also be given the option of taking unpaid FMLA leave.
This decision by the 11th Circuit is a reminder to all Georgia employers that they may be required to provide injured employees with FMLA rights and protections, even when an injury is being handled through the workers’ compensation process.
Next steps for an employer if a worker has been injured on the job
In Georgia, if a business has 3 or more employees, they are generally required to have workers’ compensation insurance. Employer duties include:
- Individual claim attention
- Prompt and courteous reporting
- Full information disclosure on income and medical benefits
Standard workers’ compensation doesn’t provide for general damage claims in most cases. The policies only cover medical bills and wage replacement while the worker is rehabilitating from an injury. Some injuries never heal fully, and workers could be eligible for long-term disability compensation based on the type of policy.