The Illinois 7th Circuit Court decided a case that clarifies employer/employee rights in discharge cases that involve workers’ compensation and the Family Medical Leave Act.
In Dotson v. BRP US Inc., Brian Dotson, the plaintiff, worked for BRP in a “grind and trim” job. BRP’s absentee policy reflects the minimum FMLA requirements. Therefore, the firm only gives 12 weeks (480 hours) of unpaid leave in a rolling 12-month period. The employee handbook also states that FMLA leave, short-term disability, and workers’ compensation run concurrently and that any employee who cannot work after 12 weeks of leave is automatically terminated.
Injury Leads to Discharge
In January 2004, Mr. Dotson suffered a work-related back injury. He was notified by his BRP that he was eligible for FMLA and had 194 hours remaining. Mr. Dotson questioned whether he needed to use FMLA hours when his injury was work-related. BRP told him that if he did not apply for FMLA, he would be terminated immediately. Even though he collected total temporary disability benefits during his absence, BRP fired Mr. Dotson the day after his 194 hours were used up, on February 24, 2004, for excessive absenteeism.
Appeal Clarifies Misconceptions
On appeal of Mr. Dotson’s suit against BRP, the Illinois 7th Circuit Court stated the plaintiff’s arguments were based on three theories steeped in misconceptions of workers’ compensation, the FMLA, and retaliatory discharge:
- Myth #1: An employer may not lawfully force an employee to take FMLA.
Truth: An employer may designate an absence as FMLA if the employer gives the worker proper notice.
- Myth #2: An employee may not be terminated for absenteeism resulting from a work-related injury.
Truth: An employer may fire an employee for excessive absenteeism, even if caused by a work-related injury. Further, under Illinois law, employers are not required to retain at-will employees who are medically unable to perform their duties nor are they required to reassign them to other positions.
- Myth #3: An employer may not count leave covered by worker’s compensation toward FMLA or run them concurrently. Truth: With the proper notification and designation, an employer may count an absence toward FMLA and may, at the minimum, consider workers’ compensation, disability, and FMLA to run concurrently. When the 12-week FMLA leave is used up, the employee must look to the state workers’ compensation statute or the ADA for protection or relief.
While these rulings appear to favor employers, many companies do not meet the requirements set by law to terminate for excessive absenteeism. Remember, even if you are terminated, you are still entitled to all the rights and benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, including: weekly disability benefits (TTD) while unable to work your regular job, payment of your medical bills, vocational rehabilitation if you are unable to return to full-duty work, and a lump-sum settlement or award for the injury itself. Understand your rights and receive just compensation for your injuries. Contact STYKA & STYKA, LLC at 312-357- 8000 after any work-related injury.