An employee hurt his back at work and was placed on light duty. After working light duty for several days, the employee decided he needed to see a doctor for back pain. The company fired the worker, saying he violated policy by not notifying management first before seeking medical treatment for a workplace injury.
The worker sued the company for retaliatory discharge. Now a federal court has weighed in.
Here are the details:
Joenathan Stevenson worked for FedEx in Illinois as a package handler for four years. In January 2011, Stevenson reported to supervisors that he had a sore back. FedEx placed him on light duty, which he worked for five days. After that, he sought medical treatment for his back.
A doctor gave him permission to return to work but said he was to remain on light duty. Stevenson returned to work and produced a doctor’s note. That’s when he was fired for not notifying management before seeking medical treatment for a workplace injury.
That’s when Stevenson sued FedEx.
Just a small inconvenience
In Illinois, it’s illegal for an employer to fire an employee in retaliation for exercising a right guaranteed by the state’s workers’ comp law.
One of the rights in the Illinois workers’ comp law: Employees can seek medical treatment for workplace injuries.
So Stevenson argued the law protects the right of employees to get medical treatment without interference “in any manner whatsoever.”
FedEx argued its advance notice requirement doesn’t interfere with employees’ ability to get medical treatment. The company said this was strictly notification – a supervisor’s approval wasn’t required. Employees had access to a 24-hour phone line to call the company. FedEx said even an attempt to notify the company would have met the requirements.
In its ruling, the court wrote that, at best, FedEx may have proved the burden of having to notify management first was minor.
However, the law prohibits imposing any prerequisite an employee must satisfy before seeking medical treatment. So a small inconvenience is still an inconvenience, and that’s not allowed.
The court concluded FedEx’s requirement that employees notify the company before seeking medical treatment for a workplace injury interfered with the right of employees to seek medical treatment. Therefore, Stevenson’s claim of retaliation was established.
What do you think about the court’s ruling? Let us know in the comments.
(Joenathan Stevenson v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., U.S. Dist. Crt., N.D. Illinois, Eastern Div., No. 13 C 138, 9/24/14)