A Georgia Employer’s Compliance With Workers’ Compensation Law Did Not Shield It From Possible Liability for FMLA Interference

Is it possible for your employer to take certain proper actions in the aftermath of your workplace injury and still do (or fail to do) other things that constitute violations of the law? Yes, it is. Just because your employer complies with one law does not absolve it of its responsibility to comply with other laws and, if you are harmed because your employer failed to satisfy any of its legal obligations, you may be entitled to recover compensation in a legal action. To learn more about your options, get in touch with a knowledgeable Atlanta employment lawyer.

Two such laws that may overlap in the case of a workplace injury are workers’ compensation law and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Take, for example, the FMLA interference case of N.R., a housekeeper at a hospital in Gwinnett County.

In September 2016, the housekeeper suffered a significant knee injury at work. The employer promptly took action, but that action was to process the housekeeper’s injury as a workers’ compensation claim. The employer did not provide N.R. with any information about her FMLA rights.

The employer gave the housekeeper “a few days off and a temporary light-duty assignment.” After that, the employer demanded that she successfully complete an “essential-functions test” before returning to her regular job. That test included certain difficult elements, like bending to one knee, 10 deep knee squats, and walking up and down a flight of stairs without using the handrail. Not knowing beforehand about the elements contained in the test and the dire consequences of failing it, N.R. went ahead.

Suffice it to say, she didn’t pass the test, so the employer fired her.

The housekeeper sued her employer for FMLA interference. In part of its defense, the employer established its compliance with the workers’ compensation laws and advanced that evidence as proof that it could not be liable to N.R. That argument worked at the trial court level but not in front of the appeals court.

In your FMLA case, you need several essential things to achieve a successful outcome. For one thing, you must demonstrate that the reason for which you sought leave was a qualifying one. To be qualifying, your condition must be a “serious health condition” that makes you “unable to perform” the duties of your job. To be “serious,” your medical problem must be something that involved “continuing treatment by a health care provider.” N.R. had ample proof that her knee injury met all of those requirements.

An additional essential requirement is that you placed your employer “on sufficient notice for its duty to inform” you of your right to FMLA leave. In N.R.’s case, she had some pretty compelling evidence on this front. Specifically, her proof included the fact that the employer’s FMLA administrator was present when she suffered her knee injury, that this same administrator handled all of the housekeeper’s workers’ compensation and workplace injury paperwork, and that the administrator “personally accompanied [N.R.] to follow-up medical appointments and the doctor-prescribed physical therapy sessions.”

The Importance of Proof of a Benefit that Was Denied to You

For an FMLA interference claim, you need more. You need proof that your employer denied you a benefit under the law. In N.R.’s case, she had proof of two alleged benefits denied, which included something called “eligibility notice,” which is an employer’s obligation to inform the employee of her “eligibility to take FMLA leave,” and “rights and responsibilities notice,” which is the employer’s detailing of “the specific expectations and obligations of the employee and explaining any consequences of a failure to meet these obligations.”

N.R. did not get either of those notices. Despite the employer’s arguments to the contrary, the fact that the employer handled the housekeeper’s injury through the workers’ compensation process did not diminish or eliminate the employer’s obligation to satisfy requirements imposed on it by the FMLA.

There are lots of things you can take away from this housekeeper’s case, including the reality that achieving a successful result in an FMLA interference case is a multi-faceted process that requires a deep understanding of the law. For the sort of reliable and knowledgeable legal representation that your FMLA case deserves, look to the skilled Atlanta family/medical leave attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our firm has a long track record of success in FMLA cases and is ready to get to work for you. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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