Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What You Need to Know If You're Injured At Work

If you are injured at work, you probably can’t sue your employer. Instead, you’ll likely have to make a worker’s compensation (worker’s comp) claim. An employer who carries worker’s comp insurance is mostly immune for suits for workplace injuries.

Intentional injuries:
assault, battery, defamation, and other intentional torts are usually not covered by worker’s comp.

Coworker liability: your coworkers are also likely immune from suit for workplace injuries if the employer has workers comp insurance. However, they could be personally liable for assault, battery, defamation and other intentional torts.

Making claims: you need to follow the employer’s claim procedure for worker’s comp claims. This usually means that you need to report the injury to your supervisor and they need to prepare an injury to report to file with the state worker’s compensation board. You need to notify them as soon as possible, providing the date of injury, witnesses, and how the injury happened.

Light duty: if your company has light duty, they may have to provide it to you and you will be able to get worker’s comp benefits that make up the difference. But many employers will deny that they have light duty and then you may lose coverage because you’re able to work. It’s important to speak with a worker’s comp attorney before you try to go back to light duty.

if the injury happens at work or is related to work, such as when you’re running an errand for work, then it should be covered if it was an accident.
Retaliation: generally, your employer can’t retaliate against you for making a worker’s comp claim.

Donna’s tips:

a. Don’t delay if you’re injured. If you wait months before making the claim, your employer may not believe that you were injured at work. The sooner you make your claim, the better your witnesses’ memories will be.

b. Workers’ comp requirements are tough to navigate sometimes. If you have a serious injury, you probably need to talk to a worker’s comp attorney.

So, have you been injured at work? Were you retaliated against? How? Are you an attorney who has handled cases involving retaliation for making worker's comp claims? Did you get reinstated? Did the employer end up paying your lost wages? Did the legal system work or does it need fixing in this type of case? What needs fixing and how would you fix it? I'd love to hear about your experiences, good and bad.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What You Need To Know About Missing Work Due to Illness

Know your employer’s sick leave policy. Most employers require that you call in as soon as you know you won’t make it. No law requires paid sick leave.

Family and Medical Leave: applies if you have a serious medical condition and need several days off, or need intermittent leave for treatment.

Accommodations: if you have an illness that qualifies as a disability, you might be entitled to accommodations that will enable you to perform all the duties of your job.

Excessive absenteeism: unless you qualify for FMLA leave or have a disability for which you are seeking accommodations, your employer can fire you for any reason, including absenteeism. Know what they consider excessive. If you have to come to work sick, that’s better than losing your job.

Donna’s tips:

a. Lots of people express surprise that they were fired after being sick. “But I had a doctor’s note!” they say. A doctor’s note won’t help you unless you qualify for FMLA leave or an ADA accommodation. 90% of life is just showing up. (Woody Allen). Your employer is entitled to have you at work.

b. If you are contagious, then your employer requiring you to come in anyhow might be an OSHA violation. You can point this out, but don’t be insubordinate.

c. If ordered to come in, then rent a stretcher if you have to. Unless going to work endangers your life, comply with the boss’s order to come to work. Appeal to HR if you can, but don’t lose your job.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What You Need To Know About Your Employer's Health Insurance

No Federal law requires your employer to carry health insurance coverage for employees (a few states, like Massachusetts and Hawaii, are different). However, once they do have coverage, there are some Federal requirements employers must comply with. If your employment has ended, read the paperwork you get on COBRA to find out about your rights to continued coverage. If you're still employed or about to be employed, here's what you need to know about your insurance.

Non-discrimination: Your employer must not discriminate in providing or reducing coverage based on , for example, age, disability or pregnancy.

Plan description: The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requires your employer to provide a description of your plan and how to make claims.

Privacy of records: If your employer does have access to medical records, such as when it’s self-insured, it must comply with the privacy requirements of HIPAA.

Specific coverage requirements: Certain procedures must be covered once insurance is provided. For instance, if mastectomies are covered, then reconstructive surgery must also be covered. Insurance can’t restrict the length of hospital stays for the birth of a child to less than 48 hours for vaginal delivery or 96 hours for c-section.

Preexisting conditions: HIPAA limits exclusions for preexisting conditions to no more than 12 months, and allows plans to look back no more than 6 months. Pregnancy and genetic information can never be excluded. If you were covered by a prior plan and had less than a 63 day break in coverage, preexisting conditions won’t be excluded. Most children can’t be excluded based on preexisting conditions.

Health factors: You can’t be denied insurance or have benefits reduced due to your health status, physical or mental illness, claims experience, receipt of health care, medical history, genetic information, conditions arising from domestic violence, participation in hazardous activities, or disability.

Certificate of coverage: The employer must provide a certificate of coverage automatically at certain times, and upon request.

Young adults: Your plan must allow you to have your children covered up to age 26.

Lifetime limits: No lifetime limits on coverage are allowed anymore. Most plans won’t be able to have annual limits.

Rescission: If you become ill, the insurance company can’t look for unintentional mistakes on your application as an excuse to deny coverage.

Eliminate or reduce coverage: Your employer can eliminate coverage or change plans at will.

Donna’s tips:

a. Your employer has to disclose if it believes its plan is “grandfathered” and exempt from some of the new health care reform’s requirements. If it is grandfathered and significant changes are made to the plan, it might lose its grandfathered status and have new requirements.

b. Non-grandfathered plans must provide access to pediatricians and OB-GYNs and coverage of preventive services with no cost sharing.

c. Read your plan and understand it. Don’t wait until a crisis to understand your health care coverage and rights.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Yes, Conservatives, There Is Sexual Harassment

In the wake of the Herman Cain sexual harassment scandal, some conservatives are making outrageous and insulting statements about women who are sexual harassment victims. They ask, "Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing?" (National Review). "Experts" spout off nonsense like, "You know what sexual harassment is? You know what it really is? It's a political tool. . . . It's become an accredited way for malcontent women to score some money." (Rush Limbaugh) and "It always ends up being an employee who can't perform or who under-performs and is looking for a little green." (Laura Graham).

As an employment lawyer who has handled sexual harassment cases for 25 years, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: Yes, conservatives, there is sexual harassment. It's real. It happens every day. Twenty-nine percent of Americans say they've been sexually harassed at some point. And you don't want a world where it becomes legal.


Sexual harassment is almost never about sex. It's about power, plain and simple. Harassers, like rapists, like to exercise power over their victims. These are men (and sometimes women) who choose their victims carefully. They're sneaky. They know the danger of getting caught.

Read more in The Huffington Post. I'd love to see your comments there.

Thanks to Gina Misiroglu of Red Room for putting me in touch with the Huffington Post!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Can My Boss Hold My FMLA Against Me?

I received this question from calistair:

I have MS, every 4th Friday I have to take off work for a treatment. I recently asked to take 2 hours of PTO on a Friday afternoon. My supervisor responded via email with "The remainder of the group has covered Fridays for you". When asked twice via email what she meant, she came to my desk and verbally stated "On the Fridays of your infusions" I said "Oh no, that's under FMLA". This is 2nd time she has used my FMLA time against me. The first time, we were discussing the department budget and she told me that my reduced work hours (32.5/week) was causing others to work OT, which in turn has caused our department to be over budget. What can I do?

Now, obviously the first thing I advise is to talk to an attorney in your state. I’ll give you some general information on FMLA, which will hopefully help point you in the right direction in the meantime.

Based on your question, it looks like you’re on intermittent leave. FMLA allows up to 12 weeks of total leave in a calendar year, so if you need every 4th Friday off you are using 13 days of FMLA, roughly 2 ½ weeks. You are certainly covered under the law for this, assuming the employer has at least 50 employees and you’ve been there at least a year. Some states also have medical leave laws which might provide more protection.

Here’s what an employer can and can’t do while you’re on FMLA leave:

PTO use: Your employer may require you to take paid leave concurrently with their unpaid FMLA leave. All forms of paid leave are treated the same. Paid leave taken concurrently with FMLA leave could include vacation time, paid personal leave, and paid sick and medical leave. The employer may waive any procedural requirements for the taking of paid leave and you are always entitled to their unpaid FMLA leave even if you do not meet the employer’s requirements for taking paid leave. If the employer is not making you use your PTO for the intermittent leave, you should be entitled to use it like anyone else.

Retaliation: The employer is not allowed to use your FMLA leave against you. They can’t write you up for poor attendance, ding you in performance evaluations for excessive absenteeism or for failing to perform while you were on leave, demote you or fire you for taking leave. However, if they discover performance issues or dishonesty while you’re on leave (say a coworker covering for you finds out you embezzled millions), then they can fire you or discipline you. If the supervisor is retaliating, you probably want to report this to HR, in writing, as a “Formal Complaint of FMLA Retaliation.”

These are the two parts of FMLA that seem to apply to your situation. Other things you might need to know about FMLA are:

Perfect attendance: Employers may deny you a perfect attendance award for taking FMLA leave if employees taking non-FMLA leave are treated the same.

Contact with health care provider: Your employer may communicate with your health care provider to get information required by the FMLA certification form. The employer’s designated representative to communicate with the health care provider must be a health care provider, human resource professional, leave administrator, or a management official, but cannot be the employee’s direct supervisor. Employers are prohibited from asking health care providers for information other than what is required by the certification form. If the employer determines that a medical certification is not complete or is insufficient, the employer must provide written notification to you of what information is lacking and give you seven calendar days to cure the issue. Employers may request a new medical certification each leave year for medical conditions that last longer than one year. Employers may request recertification of a continuing condition every six months.

Fitness for duty: An employer may require the certification to address your ability to perform the essential functions of your job. In the event that reasonable job safety concerns exist, an employer can require a fitness-for-duty certification before you may return to work when you take intermittent leave.

There are many more requirements and responsibilities under FMLA that may apply to you. These are some of the most common issues. I hope this helps. Good luck!