FMLA and Workers’ Compensation in South Carolina: Which Should You Take?
Understanding your rights as an employee, especially when it comes to injury or illness, is an incredibly important part of protecting your well-being on any job site. Two critical protections available to workers in South Carolina are the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and workers’ compensation.
Below, we’ll delve into the differences and intersections of these two programs to help you determine the best course of action for your own situation.
Understanding FMLA and Workers’ Compensation Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Enacted in 1993, FMLA is a federal law that allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. This could include a serious personal health condition that makes the employee unable to perform their job or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. But, more importantly, FMLA leave guarantees that the employee’s job (or an equivalent position) will be available upon their return.
Employees can use their available sick time or PTO during their FMLA leave to receive pay, but when these benefits run out, so will their income. Additionally, employees must work for their employer for a minimum of a year to receive FMLA leave, and typically, only companies with at least 50 workers offer FMLA.
Reasons for taking FMLA leave vary, but most typically include things like:
- Tending to sick family members
- Recovering from an injury or illness
However, employees recovering from injury or illness may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, but only if the reason for the illness or injury is due to an incident at their workplace.
Workers’ compensation is a state-regulated program meaning that the specific rules and benefits vary from one state to another. In South Carolina, workers’ compensation provides medical treatment, disability payments, and vocational rehabilitation to workers who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses.
However, unlike FMLA, there’s no job protection component in workers’ compensation law. So while employers cannot legally terminate a worker because of a work-related injury, they can fire a worker for other reasons, many of which usually arise as a result of the workplace injury.
Likewise, workers’ comp cannot be used to tend to a sick family member, whereas FMLA can. Another difference is that, unlike FMLA, workers’ comp does allow for those who file it to receive at least two-thirds of their wages, medical bills, and other benefits.
Should I Take FMLA Leave, Workers’ Compensation, or Both?
When you have a work-related injury or illness, you may be eligible for both FMLA and workers’ compensation. But how should you navigate these two programs?
It’s important to note that these programs serve different purposes. Workers’ compensation covers medical expenses and provides wage replacement for work-related injuries or illnesses, whereas FMLA ensures job protection during your time off for a medical or family issue.
Given their distinct purposes, it is possible to utilize both FMLA and workers’ compensation simultaneously. If you are injured or become ill due to your job, you can file a workers’ compensation claim to cover your medical costs and part of your lost wages.
Concurrently, you could also apply for FMLA leave to guarantee your job security while you’re recovering.
However, if you decide to use both, remember that the 12-week FMLA leave period and your time off under workers’ compensation run simultaneously, not consecutively. This means your total time off work may still be limited to 12 weeks if you rely only on FMLA for job protection.
Making an Informed Decision
Deciding between FMLA, workers’ compensation, or both depends on your specific situation. If your concern is about medical costs and wage replacement due to a work-related injury, workers’ compensation is likely the best option for your case. If job protection is your primary concern, then you may want to consider FMLA. If both are important, using them together is probably your best option.
Understanding FMLA and workers’ compensation can be complex, but knowing the basics empowers you to make informed decisions should you find yourself in a situation requiring these protections.
Before deciding, it’s always a good idea to seek legal counsel to understand your rights and potential benefits under each program.
Consulting with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can provide guidance based on your unique circumstances and ensure you make the most beneficial decision.