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Providing workers' comp benefits does not absolve employer's obligations under the FMLA

In Noorjahan Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems LLC, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta reversed a district court ruling and found that the employer could be found liable for violating the FMLA when it did not provide an employee notice of her rights and protections in the context of a workers' compensation case. A housekeeping employee injured her knee and was required to take a fit for duty test when she was cleared to resume her regular job. She was required to complete certain physical tasks, which were not known to the doctor who cleared her.

Before she finished the tasks, she experienced pain and was not allowed to continue at a later time. After failing the test, she was fired and was not advised of her FMLA rights. When she filed suit for interference, the hospital argued that because she was cleared to work through the workers' compensation process, the company had no reason to believe she required FMLA leave, and the district court agreed.

However, the appeals court reversed and remanded for trial, writing that employers "are prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying an employee's efforts to exercise any FMLA right" and that "providing workers' compensation benefits cannot absolve an employer of all obligations under the FMLA."

Workers' Compensation
Rule eliminating pork line speed limits compromises worker safety - Federal

The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota upheld a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 31, finding a controversial rule that removed line speeds in pork-processing plants and transferred certain inspection responsibilities to plant workers compromised worker health and consumer welfare. The court granted a 90-day stay on its order and entry of judgment in the case to "allow the agency to decide how to proceed in light of this opinion and give regulated entities time to prepare for any operational change."

No benefits for employee whose actions caused her injury - Illinois

In Purcell v. Illinois Workers' Comp. Comm'n, an appellate court affirmed the denial of workers' compensation benefits to a temporary university employee who was injured going to turn in her time card at the personnel office. On the way she hopped over a chain barrier, tripped, and fell. The court found that the injury did not arise out of her employment since she had "voluntarily hopped over the chain fence when the heel of her shoe got caught and she was injured." Her actions exposed her to an unnecessary danger separate from her employment responsibilities.

Ability to work a minimum wage retail job nixes ironworker's PTD benefits - Massachusetts

An appeals court ruled that an ironworker was properly denied Permanent Total Disability (PTD) benefits after injuries left him unable to return to work as an ironworker since he could still perform light retail work. He received permanent partial disability benefits of $885.96 per week but was not awarded permanent total disability payments because he could work at a retail job, earning $440/week. Although the worker argued that taking a minimum wage job would be demeaning, the court, while sympathetic, noted the law recognizes that a worker can be totally disabled if the only jobs open to him are of an "(in)substantial" or "merely trifling character," and that was not the case.

Parents argue son's death was not compensable - Missouri

In Halsey v. Townsend Tree Serv. Co, a 23-year-old-employee suffered from heat stroke on the third day of his job. Although it had been hot for three days, the heat index reached 114 degrees the day he collapsed. His parents argued that a compensable injury had not occurred because their son had an idiopathic condition, morbid obesity, that caused his death. Thus, a civil action against the employer would not be protected by exclusive remedy.

The court, however, relied on medical testimony that the heat on the day he collapsed was the prevailing factor in the employee's death and while the obesity may have been a contributing factor, it was not causative. In Missouri, nondependent parents of an employee who dies in a work-related accident do not receive workers' compensation death benefits.

Employer may be required to reimburse for medical marijuana - New Jersey

In Hager v. M&K Construction, the state Supreme Court affirmed a decision of the state's Appellate Division that an employer could be required to reimburse an injured worker for the cost of medical marijuana. The worker suffered a back injury, which the company disputed for a few years, but an agreement was ultimately reached regarding medical bills, most out-of-pocket medical expenses, temporary disability benefits and third-party lien credits. The worker underwent fusion surgery, but his pain persisted, and he continued to take prescribed opioid medication. A hospice and palliative care physician enrolled him in a medical marijuana program to treat his pain and ween him off opioids.

The company refused to pay the medical marijuana reimbursement, arguing it was not necessary treatment and would expose them to potential federal criminal liability for aiding and abetting. Lower courts rejected these arguments as did the Supreme Court, noting if the Legislature intended to exclude workers' compensation under the Compassionate Use Act, it would have expressly done so. It concluded that medical marijuana can "constitute reasonable and necessary care under New Jersey's workers' compensation scheme."

Death ten days after settlement nullifies agreement - New York

In Weishar v Dan Tait Inc., an appellate court ruled that a worker's death during the 10-day period after the Workers' Compensation Board approved a lump-sum settlement rendered the agreement null. Workers' Compensation Law Section 32(b)(3) imposes a 10-day waiting period before an agreement will be deemed approved.

Shuttle accident compensable - Pennsylvania

In West Penn Allegheny Health System Inc. v. WCAB (Cochenour), The Commonwealth Court ruled that a nurse was entitled to temporary total disability benefits for injuries from a shuttle accident while riding to her workplace. The nurse parked her car in her assigned spot and took the shuttle bus to work. When the shuttle hit a curb, bounced across the lanes and struck a curb on the other side, she was jostled, but did not feel symptoms until two days later.

After experiencing spams and numbness in her legs and arms, a neck ache, and headache, she reported the incident to her manager. The doctor opined that her history of fibromyalgia and age-appropriate degenerative changes in the neck and back, could explain the delay in experiencing pain. Eventually she underwent a laminectomy. Although the company initially accepted liability for medical treatment, it later denied it saying the injuries had not occurred in the course and scope of employment. A judge, the WCAB, and the Commonwealth Court found the employee credible and awarded benefits.

The judge and WCAB awarded a credit to the company for the short and long-term disability benefits in the net amount received by the employee, rather than the gross amount it had paid. The Commonwealth Court said this was an error and the act is clear that the benefits should be subrogated in the amount paid, not received.

Undocumented worker receives backpay and $50,000 punitive damages - Tennessee

In Torres v. Precision Indus. 2021, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of a federal district court that an undocumented worker was entitled to backpay, punitive damages, and compensatory damages because his former employer retaliated against him for hiring an attorney to represent him in a workers' comp case. In rendering its decision, the court noted that the former employer could not be required to pay lost wages that the undocumented worker was not allowed to earn, but the worker had received work authorization several months after the injury. Therefore, he could be awarded pay for the period he was authorized to work.

He had injured his back while working, reported it to his manager, and received medical treatment at a clinic and returned to work without a release. Three months later, he sought additional treatment and recorded a conversation he had with the manager about the medical bills, in which he was told there won't be a workers' comp claim on this. The following month, he retained an attorney who called the safety manager. The safety manager and a supervisor approached the worker, who secretively recorded the profanity-ridden conversation, in which he was told he was in for a "world of hurt." A few minutes later he was fired for "lack of work."

The district court held that the retaliatory discharge provision of the Workers' Compensation Act was preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, but the 6th Circuit reversed and remanded the case back to the court, noting it had "skipped past the question whether state law had been violated in the first place." On remand the federal court, held that the employer had violated state law and awarded a total of $96,708 for back pay, punitive damages, and compensatory damages. Upon appeal, the 6th Circuit affirmed, while making a minor adjustment in the back pay.

Pharmacies claims for payments are time barred - Virginia

In Summit Pharmacy Inc. v. Costco Wholesale, the Court of Appeals ruled that a pharmacy's claims for payment were time-barred by the statute of limitations applicable to health care providers. Although the amount in dispute was small, $358.86, the Court of Appeals had never before ruled on whether a pharmacy is a health care provider under Section 65.2-605.1(F). Under this section, the term health care provider is not defined, but Section 65.2-714(D), a statute prohibiting a health care provider from balance billing an employee under the Workers' Compensation Act, provides that the term is defined by Section 8.01-581.1, which includes pharmacists.