Workers Compensation and Hidden Employment Law Issues

Are there claims against employers hidden in Workers Compensation claims?

            Wrongful termination? A violation of the FMLA or ADA? Discrimination?

When an employee is injured on the job, both the employee and the employee are looking to Worker’s Compensation as the mechanism to get the employee’s medical bills paid and get the employee working again as soon as possible. But often the issues don’t end with the filing and resolution of a “workers comp” claim, and other employment-law issues may arise in the workers comp context.  

Consider this simple example: Complications from an initial injury covered by workers comp later renders an employee unable to work. The following are just a few of the employment-related issues implicated by this example that may result in potential claims for employees/ potential liability for employers:

o   Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”): To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must (1) work for a covered employer; (2) have worked for the employer for at least 12 months; (3) have at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12-month period immediately preceding the leave; and (4) work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles. The FMLA entitles such eligible employees to a total of twelve work weeks of leave during any twelve-month period for family- and health-related matters, as well as a right to be restored to a position of employment equivalent to the one held by the employee when the leave commenced.   

Given the above example, does a subsequent exacerbation related to the initial                              injury qualify for FMLA leave? The answer is “maybe.” Such a case could trigger an employer’s duty to investigate whether the injury qualifies for FMLA leave, and may leave the employer exposed to liability if it doesn’t do so.

o   Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”): The ADA prohibits employers from “discriminat[ing] against a qualified individual on the basis of disability” by “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless [a] covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of such covered entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A) (2012).

Given the above example, could later complications/symptoms related to the initial injury render the employee “disabled” for the purposes of the ADA, potentially requiring a “reasonable accommodation?” The answer is, again, “maybe.”

o   Rehabilitation Act: Section 504 of the ADA’s sister statute, the Rehabilitation Act, prohibits an employer receiving federal funding from discriminating against an employee because of her disability. It also requires an employer to accommodate an employee with a disability who can perform the essential functions of a job with a reasonable accommodation. 29 U.S.C. § 794.

So, in the above-described example, if the employer receives federal funding it may also be required to make a reasonable accommodation under the Rehabilitation Act.

And those are just three of the many ways another claim may be hidden within a workers comp situation. As an employee, find out about all of your rights in the case of a workers comp injury by talking to one of our employment attorneys. As an employer, talk to one of our attorneys about how not to run afoul of other employment laws while addressing a workers comp claim.