What You May Not Know About Your Workers' Compensation Rights Under Federal Law

Posted on: 18 December 2014

Workers' compensation law can be confusing since it isn't always clear to what benefits you are entitled. Although workers' compensation programs are governed by state statutes, certain federal laws can extend your rights as an injured or disabled worker. By understanding your rights, you may find that you have more protection than you thought.

If you are hurt at work, you may have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If your injury fits into one of the ADA's disability categories, you have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Types of disabilities include loss of cognitive abilities, mobility problems, visual impairment, hearing loss, and other medical issues.

The act applies to employers who have 15 or more employees. Depending on the nature of your injury, your employer may have to provide reasonable accommodation that allows you to perform the tasks essential to your job.

Unless it causes your employer undue hardship, reasonable accommodation may include making the workplace accessible, modifying your work schedule, providing you with specialized equipment, or reassigning you to a vacant position if your disability makes you unable to perform your current job duties. Reasonable accommodation may also include the period of time you must take off from work for your work-related illness or injury.

If you are on workers' compensation leave, you are still entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

If you are off work and receiving workers' compensation benefits, you keep your right to a period of FMLA leave for medical reasons provided that your employer has 50 or more employees. The FMLA allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. Your employer must continue your health benefits while you are out on leave and reinstate you to your former or an equivalent job position when you return.

To be eligible, you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to starting FMLA leave. You may qualify for FMLA leave if you are unable to work because of an illness, injury, impairment or other health condition that requires medical treatment on an in-patient basis. A period of incapacity that may be permanent or long term can qualify you as well.

The FMLA offers the advantage of protecting your job while you are off on leave. Although workers' compensation provides you with income and health care benefits for a time while you are off work due to a work-related illness or injury, not all state workers' compensation laws protect your job.

If you qualify for both programs, you can receive workers' compensation benefits while you are off work, but count the time off as FMLA leave. Choosing this option gives you income and protects your job.

Another benefit of FMLA is that if you transfer to another position to accommodate intermittent or reduced schedule leave for medical treatment, your employer must give you the same pay and benefits you receive for working your regular job. Under workers' compensation law, if you return to work on light duty, your employer can pay you a lower wage than you earned at the job position you held before you were injured.

If your participation in a group health plan sponsored by your employer ends while you are on workers' compensation leave, you may qualify for COBRA health insurance coverage.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives you the option to continue your group health benefits for a time. It doesn't matter whether losing your job is voluntary or involuntary.

Under COBRA, employers who had 20 or more employees in the previous year must offer employees and their families the chance to temporarily continue health coverage under the group plan. However, the coverage period is limited, and you must pay the premium for the continued coverage you receive.

When termination of employment is the qualifying event, you can get up to 18 months of continuation coverage. If you are disabled, you may qualify for an 11-month extension.

Although your group health plan may terminate continuation coverage early, it must provide you with a notice indicating the reason why your coverage is being terminated and the date on which your coverage will end. One situation in which the health plan may terminate your continuation coverage early is if you become entitled to Medicare benefits. Since you can file claims for workers' compensation and social security disability benefits at the same time, you could eventually become eligible to receive Medicare benefits.

If you are on FMLA leave, you may not apply for COBRA until you use any FMLA leave time you have remaining. For more information, contact Leif D. Erickson or a similar legal professional.