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Navigating the Bermuda Triangle with FMLA, ADA and Worker's Compensation

Date: 11/18/2016
Author: Jeniece Carter-Henson

Managing employee relations issues is never an easy task. In some situations, employee relations matters can occupy 30% of a self storage facility operator’s time, especially when discussing the topics of FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Worker’s Compensation. These laws and regulations can be overwhelming on their own, but together they can interweave to become as chaotic as the Bermuda Triangle.

To best illustrate this complexity, it’s best to understand each of the above three laws/ regulations:

When would these regulations intertwine and increase in complexity? The the following offers explanation via example:

An employer that has several locations within 75 miles of one another may have, collectively, 62 employees. If an employee is injured at one of these locations, it is the employers responsibility to send them for medical treatment because it is a Worker’s Compensation requirement within the state the business operates. In addition, the employee needs to be out of work for 16 weeks as a result of the injury although the employer has stipulated the employee may return with a cast. 

Using the above definitions, we may examine how FMLA, ADA and Worker’s Compensation individually apply to the above scenario:

How do these regulations interplay? We now know the employer meets the conditions that require them to offer Worker’s Compensation, thus supporting the employee financially, on a limited basis, during their absence from work. Additionally, we are aware the employee is out of work due to a medical condition and, in light of the details within the example, this employer might also be required to offer the employee FMLA if the employee meets the requirements of one year of employment and 1,250 hours worked. Whether FMLA is offered concurrently or non-concurrently is up to the employer. A best practice for most employers is offering the leave concurrently so that the disruption is minimal and the job is federally protected for the employee.

While it seems as if Worker’s Compensation and FMLA have everything covered, remember that the employee was out for 16 weeks. After 12 weeks the employee would have exhausted his or her 12-week job protection under FMLA. This is when ADA and the chaotic interweaving of the three regulations, takes effect. The employer would need to study the circumstances and determine if the employee would qualify for a reasonable accommodation that allows the employee to take additional leave under the protection of the ADA.

The employer must also specific that the employee can return to work with a cast. For this to be viable, the employer would have to evaluate if the employee can return, and assess whether the working conditions allow the possibility of accommodating the employee’s cast. In most office settings, this is permissible and the employee would be allowed to take an additional two weeks leave and work the remaining two weeks with a cast.

It is important to emphasize that in making determinations on reasonable accommodations, the employer also needs to consider whether the employer would be suffering an undue hardship on the business. It is recommended to seek additional guidance on this issue.

The Bermuda Triangle of FMLA, ADA, and Worker’s Compensation is an area that all employers could be faced with and, if handled inappropriately, could lead to legal exposure. At AlphaStaff, our dedicated and certified Human Resources account representatives help employers best understand the various employment practices. Additionally, we assist with employee relations matters, similar to the complex example used within this article, allowing storage owners more time to focus on their core business. To find out how AlphaStaff can provide storage owners with the tools and services needed to educate on employment practices, please feel free to contact our Vice President of Strategic Business Development, Jeniece Carter-Henson, at jhenson@alphastaff.com or at (727)365.6722.