HR Hotline: What Happens When an Employee Is Injured at Home?
Q: A sales employee at my small manufacturing facility recently informed us that they tore their ACL playing basketball and need surgery. Post surgery, they won’t be able to drive for eight weeks.
The employee currently works a hybrid schedule, half remote, half in-person. Can you help us understand our legal obligations with respect to their pay and job continuation?
A: As is so often the case with employee injuries and illnesses, this scenario requires consideration of both the Family and Medical Leave Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as your own paid time off and short-term disability policies.
Since this injury did not occur on the job, we can discount workers’ compensation. As a manufacturer, your company is exempt from Connecticut’s paid sick leave law.
Connecticut’s FMLA covers nearly all private sector employers in the state, so this is the first statute to consider with employee injuries or illnesses.
After three months on the job, employees with a “serious health condition” are eligible for 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a 12-month period.
Assuming your employee has not used FMLA leave already in the last year, they are likely eligible for an unpaid leave of absence while recuperating from surgery.
You should provide paperwork that outlines their rights under the law.
It’s important to remember that FMLA leave is a true “leave of absence” from work; in other words, while on FMLA, your employee will not be working from home.
As their employer, your responsibility is to allow them to return to work at the conclusion of their leave.
Many employers often forget that Connecticut’s FMLA statute is separated into two parts: an unpaid job-protected leave of absence (as described above), and monetary benefits administered by the Paid Leave Authority and third-party administrator Aflac.
Talk to your employee about your short-term disability policy (if any) and your PTO policies.
If they have accrued PTO available, you may require that they use that PTO (with the exception of two weeks, which can be set aside for later use) during FMLA leave of absence.
If they collect PTO payments or short-term disability benefits and they are “primary” (in other words, paid first before any other benefits), Aflac will reduce their benefits accordingly.
It may turn out that your employee needs very little time off, and that the real issue is that they can work, but can’t drive.
If that’s the case, you may have an obligation to provide accommodations under the ADA and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.
In general, if your employee has a covered disability, you may have a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation that will allow them to perform the essential functions of their job, unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of your business.
Examples of reasonable accommodations could include job restructuring, modified work schedules, or remote work.
“Undue hardship” means significant difficulty or expense.
In your case, since your employee already works remotely on a part-time basis, if they request an accommodation consisting of full-time remote work, and you object to that accommodation, you’ll need to establish why it would present an undue hardship.
For example, if the position requires in-person sales calls, perhaps it would be an undue hardship to allow them to work entirely on a remote basis.
These considerations may help you and your employee decide on a course of action: whether a leave of absence under FMLA (because the injury prevents them from doing the job), or an accommodation (because they can work with modifications).
As you can imagine, these statutes can be complex and sometimes pose risks for unwary employers. When in doubt, contact your favorite employment attorney for guidance.
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