Must Employers Notify Workers’ Compensation Claimants Of Their Family Medical Leave Act Rights?
Over the past two decades, our Ocala, Florida workers’ compensation retaliation lawyers have represented Florida employees who have been retaliated against for making a workers’ compensation claim. Having decades of experience representing workers’ compensation retaliation victims, our Marion County, Florida workers’ compensation retaliation attorneys know that many employers never inform workers injured on the job about their rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In this article, our Ocala, Florida workers’ compensation retaliation lawyers explain how the recent decision by the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Rajmi v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC, Case No. 1:18-cv-00734 (11th Cir. April 6, 2021) establishes that employers must inform workers’ compensation claimants of their FMLA rights.
Employees’ Right To Leave Of Absence
The FMLA entitles employees to take a leave of absence from work for certain family and medical reasons. Among these, an eligible employee may take up to twelve weeks of leave from work because of a serious health condition that renders the employee unable to perform the functions of her position. The FMLA also guarantees an eligible employee the right to be restored to her former position, or an equivalent position, at the end of her leave, provided that she can perform the essential functions of her job. But if, after twelve weeks, the employee cannot perform an essential function of her job, the employer may choose to end her employment.
Injured Employees Must Be Told Of FMLA Rights
When an employer acquires knowledge that an employee may be entitled to leave under the FMLA, the employer must provide notice to the employee of her eligibility for FMLA leave and rights under the FMLA without a certain time period. An employer’s failure to comply with the notice requirements may constitute interference with, restrain, or denial of the exercise of an employee’s FMLA rights. To satisfy its eligibility-notice requirements, an employer must advise the employee of her eligibility to take FMLA leave within five business days, absent extenuating circumstances. Rights-and-responsibilities notice must set forth the specific expectations and obligations of the employee and explain any consequences of a failure to meet these obligations.
Injured Employee Makes Work Comp Claim
In Ramji, Noorjahan Ramji (Ramji) brought a claim under the FMLA against her former employer, Hospital Housekeeping Services, LLC (HHS). Ramji claims that HHS interfered with her FMLA rights by failing to notify her that she was eligible for leave under the FMLA after she suffered a work-related injury.
For nearly eleven years, Ramji worked as a housekeeper at Eastside Medical Center in Snellville, Georgia. In 2013, HHS, which provides contracted cleaning services to hospitals, took over maintenance operations at Eastside Medical Center. Ramji’s employment fell under HHS.
On September 15, 2016, Ramji suffered a knee injury when she tripped and fell at work. That same day, Ramji received medical treatment at Eastside Medical Center for her work-related knee injury. At the time of her injury, HHS did not provide Ramji with any information about eligibility for leave and rights under the FMLA. Instead, HHS immediately handled Ramji’s knee injury solely as a workers’ compensation claim.
Work Comp Claimant Fired
After a few days off and a temporary light-duty assignment, Ramji received medical clearance to resume her regular-duty position. But before HHS would allow her to do so, Ramji first had to pass an essential-functions test, which required her to complete certain physical tasks that the doctor who cleared her was not advised of. Among other things, Ramji had to repeatedly engage in deep squats and bend to one knee. Though Ramji was able to perform several of these exercises, she began to experience pain in her injured knee before she finished all of them. As a result, Ramji did not pass the test.
Because of her failure to pass the test, HHS fired Ramji. At no point before HHS fired Ramji did HHS advise Ramji of her rights under the FMLA or give Ramji an opportunity to take twelve uninterrupted weeks of leave to rehabilitate her knee, even though the FMLA entitled her to that relief.
Worker’s Comp Claimants’ Rights
The trial court dismissed Ramji’s FMLA interference claim. In doing so, the trial court rubber-stamped the employer’s argument that Ramji was not entitled to notice of her FMLA rights because Ramji’s work-related injury was handled through workers’ compensation. In other words, according to the trial court, HHS was not legally obligated to notify Ramji of her FMLA rights, and thereby enable Ramji to timely exercise FMLA rights that might have saved her job, because her injury was a work-related injury for which she received workers’ compensation benefits. Thus, the trial court essentially ruled that when an employee is injured at work and makes a workers’ compensation claim, the FMLA ceases to exist. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the trial’s decision and reinstated Ramji’s FMLA interference claim.
In reversing the trial court’s rubber-stamping of the employer’s fatally flawed interpretation of the FMLA, the Eleventh Circuit determined that HHS “cannot exempt itself from its FMLA notice requirements” by providing Ramji with workers’ compensation benefits, including a leave of absence from work from September 15, 2016 until September 26, 2016 due to her work-related injury. Although ignored by the reversed trial court, the appellate court pointed out that the FMLA “regulations contemplate this scenario and specify a workers’ compensation absence from work and FMLA leave may run concurrently.” In other words, the Eleventh Circuit explained, Ramji could receive workers’ compensation benefits and exercise her FMLA rights at the same time, and Ramji was entitled to a leave of absence under the FMLA even if she had taken a leave of absence as part of her claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
Having rejected the trial court’s conclusion that an employee who receives workers’ compensation benefits is not entitled to notice of her FMLA rights, the Eleventh Circuit turned to the issue of whether HHS complied with its FMLA notice requirements. The court of appeals determined that HHS was required by the FMLA to provide Ramji with notice of her eligibility for leave and rights under the FMLA within five business days from the day she suffered her work-related injury on September 15, 2016. However, the appellate court pointed out, HHS never offered Ramji FMLA eligibility and rights-and-responsibilities notice at any point during Ramji’s recovery from her work-related knee injury. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit found that a “reasonable jury could conclude that [HHS] interfered with Ramji’s FMLA rights.”
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Ocala, FL Work Comp Retaliation Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida workers’ compensation retaliation attorneys have represented Florida employees who have been retaliated against for making a workers’ compensation claim for more than twenty years. If you have been fired in retaliation for making a workers’ compensation claim or have questions about your protection against retaliation after making a workers’ compensation claim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Ocala, Florida workers’ compensation retaliation lawyers.