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Can My Employer Require Me to Use My FMLA When I Am Injured for Workman's Compensation?

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If you've suffered a workplace injury, your employer's workers' comp coverage should take care of your medical bills. In addition, you may be entitled to indemnity benefits if you lose time from work. In many work comp cases, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act rules also come into play if the injured worker is on leave for medical treatment or rehab.

FMLA Leave Rules

The FMLA is a federal law requiring employers to offer 12 weeks of leave to employees to handle a medical or family emergency; this applies regardless of whether the medical emergency results from a work injury. The law applies only to employers with 50 or more employees, however, and only benefits employees who have been with the employer for at least 12 months. According to the law, leave can be requested for “illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves either inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health-care provider.” If an employee suffers a serious on-the-job injury, for example, then she could request FMLA leave for treatment and rehabilitation.

Workers' Compensation Law

Workers’ compensation is a system of medical coverage and lost-time benefits available to workers who suffer illness or injury on the job. Workers' comp is governed by state, not federal, laws and insurance rules. Employers pay for workers’ compensation insurance, which most states require, to protect their employees against medical costs and themselves against liability claims for workplace accidents. State laws require that employers grant leave if a workers' comp physician authorizes it, and prevent employers from firing workers for claiming workers' comp benefits.

FMLA Leave Notice

Employers have the right to force injured workers to count time off as FMLA leave if the employee is recovering from a work injury. This would reduce the 12 weeks of FMLA leave that is available each year for a qualified employee. If the employer does require that an employee take FMLA leave, then he must notify the employee in writing. The U.S. Department of Labor provides a form notice, WH-381, with which an employer can legally notify an employee of this action.

Health Coverage and Other Benefits

The date FMLA leave begins is the date the employer provides written notice to the employee. If written notice is not provided, the employer cannot retroactively charge leave already taken against the FMLA limit of 12 weeks. The FMLA requires that employers continue health coverage for employees on FMLA leave, although for an on-the-job injury, the workers’ compensation coverage would pay for medical and indemnity benefits. The FMLA also allows employers to require employees to use accrued paid sick or vacation time during the unpaid leave – unless the injured employee is also drawing workers’ compensation indemnity benefits for lost time from work.


Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

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