Guidance Employers Covered by ADA and FMLA Should Consider Before Terminating an Injured Worker
By: Crystal McElrath
On April 6, 2021, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Noorjahan Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Services, 992 F.3d 1233, (11th Cir. 2021), preserving a workers’ compensation claimant’s cause of action under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The claimant/plaintiff, Noorjahan Ramji, sustained a compensable injury to her knee and was out of work, receiving temporary total disability (TTD) benefits, for about six weeks. She was not placed on FMLA leave concurrent with her workers’ compensation leave. When she was released to full duty, she was required to complete a fitness for duty test administered by the employer. She complained of pain during the test and was unable to complete it, which her employer determined demonstrated an inability to perform the essential functions of her job and terminated her. She was not notified of her FMLA eligibility. Ramji further contended she requested to use her vacation time, and her request was denied.
Ramji missed the 180-day statute of limitation for filing a claim under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), but pursued a claim under the FMLA seeking damages for FMLA Interference despite having been provided workers’ compensation leave and indemnity benefits. The 11th Circuit held “providing workers’ compensation benefits cannot absolve an employer of all obligations under the FMLA.” The court remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of the damages Ramji should receive for failure to allow the plaintiff to take the total 12-week period of leave afforded by the FMLA, as well as failure to allow her to use her accrued paid leave or even receive a payout of her accrued leave under the defendant employer’s own policies.
The 11th Circuit has now denied the defendant employer’s request for en banc reconsideration. The 11th Circuit’s ruling is final, binding precedent.
In light of this ruling, Swift Currie’s workers’ compensation and employment attorneys have prepared the following guidance for employers covered by the ADA and FMLA. Before terminating an injured worker who has been released to full duty, consider these questions:
- Is the employee eligible for FMLA leave?
- If yes, has the employee received notice of FMLA eligibility?
- Might the employee be able to perform the essential functions of their job with a reasonable accommodation, including but not limited to additional unpaid leave under the ADA?
- Has the employee identified or requested any accommodation?
Remember, in most cases, a work injury that results in a period of total disability will constitute a qualifying disability under the ADA, as well as a triggering health condition under the FMLA. It ultimately may be permissible to terminate an injured worker post injury, but documenting a few additional considerations and steps can make a world of difference in preventing an employment suit. As each case is different, Swift Currie attorneys stand willing and able to talk you through the above checklist on a case-by-case basis before you terminate an injured worker.
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