ADA-FMLA Overlap Creates Confusion

June 10, 1999
According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), most employers (63%) are uncertain about how to coordinate leaves under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), FMLA, and short-and long-term disability programs. As a result, understanding some of the key differences between the ADA and FMLA is critical. For example, under the FMLA, employers must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave due to an employee’s (or employee’s family member’s) "serious health condition." However, the ADA is more generous to employees in this regard and simply requires employers to provide unpaid medical leave for an unspecified period of time as a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s "disability."

The FMLA applies to private sector employers with 50 or more workers during 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year. However, the ADA applies to employers that have merely 15 or more employees during 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year. Again, the ADA has broader application.

Service requirements.
Under the FMLA, an eligible employee must have worked at least 12 months for the employer, with a minimum of 1,250 hours of service. The ADA does not set any minimum service requirements.

Physical/mental health conditions.
However, the definition of "serious health condition" under the FMLA has broader application than the definition of "disability" under the ADA. A "serious health condition" will likely encompass ADA disabilities as well as non-ADA disabilities, such as pregnancy, or a hernia. A "disability" under the ADA must substantially limit one or more major life activities, such as eating or dressing.

Employer requirements.
Generally, under the FMLA, an employer must hold the job open for the employee on leave. Under the ADA, however, the employer may not be required to hold the job open while the disabled employee is on leave if doing so would create hardship for the employer. Additionally, under the FMLA, the employer must maintain any health coverage the employee had before his/her leave while the employee is on leave. The ADA states that an employer must maintain a disabled employee’s health coverage while that employee is on leave only if it maintains coverage for similarly-situated employees.

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.