Regardless of the safeguards put in place by the most careful of employers, employees will suffer a work-related injury at some point. These injuries could be acute, such as a head injury after falling from a ladder, or more slowly developing, such as a repetitive stress injury. No matter how the injury happens, as long as the employee was acting in the course and scope of employment, the employee can apply for medical benefits and disability payments under the workers’ compensation system. The employee may be required to take time off from work while recovering from the injury. In cases where an employee is ill or injured and needs extended time off from work outside of the workers’ compensation context, the employee can seek protection under the Federal Medical Leave Act. Under the FMLA, eligible employees can take unpaid, job-protected for particular family reasons or medical reasons, such as having a child or a serious health condition that renders the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job. An employee cannot take unlimited unpaid leave under the FMLA. However, An employee is limited to twelve work weeks of leave within a twelve-month period, unless the leave is to care for a covered service member with a serious illness or injury if the employee is an immediate family member of the service member. In those cases, FMLA is limited to twenty-six workweeks of leave in a twelve month period. As both FMLA and workers’ compensation cases involve an employee taking protected leave to give time to heal from an injury or illness, employers need to understand that the two laws are in place for very different reasons. An employer cannot force an employee to take FMLA leave if there is a qualifying workers’ compensation claim. When an injury or illness would qualify the employee for leave, an employee must provide leave to the employee under whichever law provides the employee with the greatest rights and benefits. Accordingly, as workers’ compensation provides disability payments and medical expenses, an employer cannot force an employee to take time off under the FMLA if the employee also would qualify for time off under workers’ compensation.
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