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Employer Must Notify Employees of Both Workers’ Compensation and FMLA Rights

Noorjahan Ramji seriously injured her knee during her shift at Hospital Housekeeping Systems (HHS). Ramji took eleven days off for her injury and returned to a temporary light-duty assignment. The doctor told her not to squat, kneel, or climb during this period. After receiving medical clearance to resume her regular job duties, HHS required her to pass an essential functions test. She had to perform 10 deep-knee squats and bend down to one knee. Ramji did perform several of the exercises but experienced pain in her knee before she finished. She asked a company representative whether she could use her accrued sick and vacation time to allow more time to recover; the representative rejected her request. She did not pass the test; the company fired her. HHS did not inform Ramji that she had the right to take 12 weeks off to recover under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The company processed her injury only as a workers’ compensation claim. Ramji sued for interference with her FMLA rights.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case after the district court dismissed it. HHS argued against liability, in part because the company covered Ramji’s leave through workers’ compensation. FMLA provides eligible workers with twelve weeks of leave because of a serious health condition that impacts the employee’s ability to perform the functions of her position. The appellate court found that Ramji’s knee injury qualified as a serious health condition. She required continuing treatment for her knee through physical therapy sessions two to three times per week over six to eight weeks. It is particularly noteworthy that HHS’s FMLA administrator accompanied Ramji to her follow-up medical appointments and doctor-prescribed physical therapy sessions. Because HHS had notice that Ramji’s leave may have been FMLA qualifying, the employer must provide her notice of those rights. The court rejected HHS’s argument that it was exempt from FMLA notice obligations by offering Ramji paid workers’ compensation leave as a matter of law. Those leaves may run concurrently. Moreover, Ramji’s acceptance of a light-duty position did not relieve HHS of its FMLA obligations. Under the FMLA, Ramji could have rejected that offer and taken leave until she was ready to return to her regular position. Ramji will be able to proceed with her case.