Medical Leave in California
Examining the Intersection of Workers' Compensation and State and Federal Medical Leave
An on-the-job injury or illness may require taking time off work to recover and receive the necessary medical treatment, which can place an undue burden on workers and their families. Each state has its own set of Workers’ Compensation laws to protect those who are hurt at work. In addition, California has the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which is very similar to the federal government’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). All of these are designed to benefit people who are dealing with serious health issues.
When an injury or illness requires a worker to take time off, FMLA, CFRA and Workers’ Compensation benefits may intersect. However, it is important to understand that they are very different. FMLA and CFRA provide job protection only, whereas Workers’ Compensation benefits can help ease an injured worker’s financial burdens.
Workers’ Compensation Basics
In California, if you are hurt at work, you are eligible for the following benefits:
- Medical Care—treatment needed to cure or relieve the effects of a work-related injury or illness.
- Temporary Disability—Generally, two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly income for up to two years (depending on the date of the injury and up to statutory maximums) to compensate the worker while he or she is unable to work and under active medical treatment due to an on-the-job injury.
- Permanent Disability—compensates an injured worker based on the percentage (between 1 percent and 99 percent) of loss of body function.
- Supplemental Job Displacement Voucher—This is available if you’re not offered a job by your employer when you’re ready to return to work. It may be used for such things as training, computer equipment, payment of licensing, certification or testing fees.
- Return to Work Fund—Restrictions apply, including date of injury. May be used to pay past-due bills, repaying loans, etc.
- Death Benefits—May be payable to dependents of a worker who dies on the job or from a work-related injury.
Returning to work after an on-the-job injury is dependent on the date of your injury, your level of recovery and your employer’s ability to accommodate any work restrictions you may have.
FMLA applies to all public employers and private businesses with 50 or more employees, and was designed only for job protection. FMLA allows “eligible” employees up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- An employee’s own serious health condition.
- The birth of a child, or care of a newborn, newly adopted child or a new foster care placement.
- The care of a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition.
When it comes to FMLA, the Department of Labor mandates that:
- An employer cannot force an injured worker to take time off under FMLA.
- In instances where both FMLA and Workers’ Compensation benefits apply, the employer must provide leave under whichever best benefits the employee.
In some situations, FMLA and Workers’ Compensation benefits run concurrently. This can be advantageous for the worker because:
- The employer is required to keep the injured worker’s job open upon his or her return. The worker cannot be forced to return to “light duty.” In the Workers’ Compensation system, there are stipulations regarding returning to work with restrictions as well as accommodation protocol required of the employer.
- The employer is required to continue a worker’s healthcare coverage during this period.
CFRA provides the same coverages as the FMLA. There are, however, specific criteria for eligibility, including:
- An employee must have worked for an employer for at least 12 months.
- An employee must have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to the start of the leave.
Although FMLA and CFRA contain similar provisions and can run concurrently there are some situations in which the leave would be FMLA only or CFRA only.
Workers’ Compensation, FMLA and CFRA are complicated, and it is wise for those who are injured to have experienced legal counsel guide them so that they receive the full range of benefits to which they are entitled.