Judge Upbraids FedEx Over Work Injury Rules

     CHICAGO (CN) – A FedEx policy requiring employees to call their supervisor before seeking medical treatment for a work-related injury is illegal, a federal judge ruled.
     FedEx fired package handler Joenathan Stevenson in 2011 for failing to notify his supervisor before seeking medical attention for a work-related back injury.
     Stevenson had told his supervisor that he was suffering from a sore back, and was put on light duty for a week. He then had an appointment with a physician’s assistant, who provided him with a note asking FedEx to keep him on light duty until he could have full evaluation.
     But FedEx fired the man when he gave his supervisor the note, claiming he had violated company policy by not giving FedEx advance notice that he was going to the doctor.
     U.S. District Judge John Tharp, Jr. ruled Wednesday that this policy violated Stevenson’s right to seek medical treatment without interference.
     “According to FedEx, the policy does not affect access to, or timing of, treatment, because employees have access to a 24-hour phone line and that even an attempt to make a phone call would satisfy the policy,” Tharp wrote.
     He continued: “At best, these contentions establish that the burden imposed on employees by the advance notification requirement can be minor: a quick phone call, leave a message, and you’re on your way to the doctor. But it cannot be said that the advance notice requirement imposes no burden at all; it is a precondition that must be satisfied (on penalty of termination) before one can seek medical treatment.” (Parentheses in original.)
     Stevenson claimed that the notification requirement “creates apprehension” that FedEx has the ability to disapprove of seeking medical treatment, and may cause employees to avoid seeking medical care.
     “FedEx retorts that these suggestions are speculative, and they are, but that misses the point: by definition, imposing any prerequisite an employee must satisfy before seeking medical treatment ‘interferes’ with the employee’s right to seek and obtain medical treatment and therefore runs afoul of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act,” Tharp says.
     It is not an insubstantial burden to locate the correct phone number, and place a call while potentially in immediate need of medical care, according to the 12-page opinion. And having advance notice of Stevenson’s decision to seek medical treatment would not help FedEx maintain a safe workplace, Tharp added.
     “Any useful information the medical examination might have contributed would have only been available after-the-fact. In short, the company’s purported justifications for requiring advance notification that an employee is going to seek medical treatment – as opposed to prompt posttreatment notification – ring hollow,” Tharp wrote, keeping alive Stevenson’s retaliatory discharge claim.

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