Worker’s Comp, FMLA, And The ADA - Oh, My! Handling The Three Beasts Of The Disability Forest

It's not unusual for worker's compensation, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to overlap at times. If you're suffering from a condition that's keeping you from work, you need to know how to handle this trio of disability leave laws so that you make the most of your options. Otherwise, you can lose some powerful advantages.

Worker's Compensation Vs. FMLA

Worker's compensation benefits are available only when you've suffered an injury or illness as a result of something that happened on the job (or the job itself). It'll cover your medical expenses for that illness or injury and up to 2/3 of your lost wages. Worker's compensation laws vary by state and the programs are state-run.

FMLA is a federal provision that only applies if your employer has 50 or more workers. You also have to have been employed for at least 12 month by the company before you are covered. It provides broader coverage for employees and can be taken so that your job is held for you while you take time off work to recover from an illness or injury, or to care for a family member. Unlike worker's compensation, however, FMLA doesn't provide you with any income while you're off work.

Can You Qualify For Both At Once?

Yes! In fact, it may be to your best advantage to do so right away if you have any worries that your employer may not hold your job open while you make an extended recovery. Many people are under the illusion that worker's compensation automatically protects their right to return to their previous job - it doesn't. 

Worker's compensation statutes have anti-retaliation clauses in them that prevent your employer from firing you just to "get even" with you because you've filed a worker's comp claim after being injured on the job. However, they are notoriously vague about how long a position has to be kept open for you. Additionally, you can be forced back into the job before you're ready if you're certified for "light-duty" and you don't feel healed enough.

Under the FMLA rules, you don't have to accept light-duty assignments if you don't feel ready to return to work. That may cause your worker's compensation benefits to terminate. However, if you're really struggling with your health issues, you don't want to jeopardize your well-being by returning to work too soon.

Where Does The ADA Come In?

You may not have to drag the Americans with Disabilities Act into the situation at all, but you should be aware of its provisions, just in case. Essentially, it protects you against discrimination on the basis of a disability if your employer has 15 employees or more.

It won't guarantee you a job, but it does require your employer to open a dialogue about what reasonable accommodations could be made that would allow you to get back to work without putting "undue hardship" on the employer's business.

If the worker's compensation board determines that you're suddenly ready for work (and you feel far from it) you may be able to use the protections given you under the FMLA to buy the time that you need to negotiate for better treatment under the ADA. 

Essentially, you can use the ADA to apply some pressure to your employer to allow you more healing time as part of your reasonable accommodations, unless your employer can prove that doing so would put the company under "undue hardship."

Getting through a period of disability can be terrifying and incredibly difficult - so keep in mind that there are laws and programs in place to benefit you. If you feel like your employer isn't playing fair or is in clear violation of any worker's compensation laws, the FMLA, or the ADA, contact an attorney like Kenneth R Schuster And Associates PC right away in order to discuss your case and protect your future.