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Give FMLA notice when employees go on workers’ comp

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

The FMLA requires employers to notify eligible employees about their rights to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave annually. If you don’t give employees notice, it may prevent them from taking advantage of the time off and, thus, allow them to sue for interference with their FMLA rights.

The FMLA applies to time off for a work-related injury, too. Therefore, when employees go on workers’ compensation leave, you should tell them about their FMLA rights. That starts the 12-week clock ticking. If you don’t notify them, a lawsuit may follow even if the employee settles the workers’ comp claim.

Recent case: Rox-Ann Reifer worked as a special education teacher until she tripped on a plastic mat at work and hurt herself. Afterward, she complained about headaches and pain and was off on workers’ compensation leave for 25 weeks.

The school district terminated her after its doctor said she was fit to return. Reifer then settled her workers’ comp claim for more than $100,000 and sued. She claimed the district violated her FMLA rights because it never told her that she was entitled to FMLA leave.

The court tossed out the case. It reasoned that, while the school district should have told her upfront that she was entitled to unpaid FMLA leave, she suffered no harm. She got 25 weeks of workers’ comp leave, far more than the 12 weeks of FMLA leave she was entitled to. (Reifer v. Colonial Intermediate Unit 20, No 04:05-1906, MD PA, 2006)

Final note: The employer could have avoided an expensive lawsuit by simply telling her about her FMLA rights.  

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