Our clients often come to us with issues relating to their employment that are not directly related to their work injury or workers’ compensation claim. Given how entwined a work injury can be with employment-related issues, it can be helpful to have a general understanding of both legal areas.
One issue that comes up quite frequently is whether an Employer can require our clients to use up their vacation, sick-leave, and/or PTO for time missed from work when the reason they are missing work is a work-related injury. The short answer is yes. At present, there is no law that prevents an Employer from forcing injured workers to use up their vacation or PTO while they are unable to work due to their injury. However, it could be unlawful for an Employer to create “special rules” that apply to only one employee or only to employees with L&I claims. If they do so, it is possible they are violating other laws that prohibit discrimination of disabled persons and/or retaliation against employees who have filed L&I claims. Regardless, even if such a policy exists, the Employer cannot prevent injured workers from obtaining monetary workers’ compensation benefits if they would otherwise be entitled to it. If an injured worker is entitled to time-loss or loss of earning power benefits, then it does not matter that they are also receiving PTO or vacation benefits.
Another issue that we may see more of given the recent passage (and soon to be enacted) laws relating to Paid Sick Leave are questions about whether injured workers can earn paid sick leave if they are not working full time or full duty. Depending on what type of employee an injured worker is (salaried or hourly), they may have the right to earn paid sick leave for each hour worked. An Employer should not be able to deny accrual of paid sick leave simply because an injured worker is unable to work full-time or full-duty. Additionally, an Employer cannot prevent an injured worker from using their paid sick leave while the injured worker is receiving benefits under their claim so long as the basis for using it would otherwise be appropriate.
Ultimately, these are difficult questions to answer. The specific circumstances of each case needs to be evaluated to arrive at an answer and may require the advice of both an attorney who focuses on workers’ compensation as well as one who focuses on employment law. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me to start the discussion.