If you suffer from an on-the-job injury, it is legal for your employer to use the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to force you into taking leave so long as you are qualified.
What is FMLA?
The Family Medical Leave Act gives eligible employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave and benefits for family or medical reasons. At the end of the twelve weeks, the employee is required to return the original or equivalent position. FMLA resets annually, meaning that at the beginning of the year you are back to twelve available weeks. The benefit of FMLA is job-security, but the drawback is that you are not receiving income.
There are various qualifications for FMLA, but the one that will be used when discussing a workers' compensation claim is, "a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job." [Source: U.S. Department of Labor]
Can Your Employer Force You to Use FMLA from a Work-Related Injury?
Yes. Your employer can put you on FMLA so long as you have met the requirements for the leave. The good news is that workers can only be forced to take FMLA while receiving workers' compensation benefits if the injuries sustained result from employer negligence.
Employers will often suggest using the Family and Medical Leave Act instead of filing a workers' compensation claim. The reason your employer will put you on FMLA is to save money because they are not paying you during the time off. If your employer is urging you to take time before filing a workers' compensation claim, consult with your attorney before agreeing to the suggestion.
The Good News
The Family and Medical Leave Act does help injured employees who do not win or qualify for workers' compensation benefits. Additionally, it does not impact your workers' compensation claim. While the leave is unpaid, you have job-security to focus on your healing while still benefiting from health insurance.
FMLA and worker's compensation are not mutually exclusive. You can still file a workers' compensation claim while on FMLA. If you win the claim, then you will receive partial pay and medical expenses recovered, as well as receive twelve weeks of job protection.
If your on-the-job injury was caused by employer negligence then you are entitled to a workers' compensation claim; FMLA or no FMLA.