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August 16, 2023

Navigating the overlap between the ADA and the FMLA

When an employee becomes sick, has a disability, or must take leave to support their family, they may be entitled to legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or both, in some situations. While the ADA and FMLA support employees with physical or mental health conditions, they have different requirements. Determining which laws apply to an employee’s circumstances can often be complicated; missteps resulting in expensive penalties, fines, and legal fees can be costly for employers.

Overview of the ADA

The ADA makes it illegal for covered employers to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in all employment practices, including recruitment, compensation, hiring and firing, job assignments, training, leave, and benefits. In addition, the ADA prohibits an employer from retaliating against an applicant or employee for asserting their rights under the ADA. Employers with 15 or more employees are covered by the ADA.

Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA requires a covered employer to pro- vide reasonable accommodations to an employ- ee or job applicant with a disability unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in how things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

Qualified Individuals With Disabilities

Under the ADA, a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment substantially limiting a major life activity. The ADA also protects individuals with a record of a substantially limiting impairment and people who are regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment.

A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. Essential functions are the basic job duties an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation.

Overview of the FMLA

The FMLA provides eligible employees of covered employers with unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. A private-sector employer is considered a covered employer under the FMLA if they employ 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or previous calendar year. In general, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave each year for FMLA-qualifying reasons, including the treatment of a serious health condition.

Employee Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must meet the following:

  • Be employed by a covered employer
  • Have worked for their employer for at least 12 months as of the date the leave is to start
  • Have accrued at least 1,250 hours of service for their employer during the 12-month period before the leave
  • Work at a location where their employer has at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius

Employee Eligibility Requirements

An eligible employee may take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for any of the following FM- LA-qualifying reasons:

  • The birth of a child or placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care, as well as the need to bond with the child within one year of birth or placement
  • The treatment of a serious health condition that results in the employee being unable to perform the essential functions of their job
  • The employee’s need to care for an immediate family member who has a serious health condition
  • Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee has an immediate family member who is a military member on covered active duty or has been called to covered active duty status

A “serious health condition” is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or medical condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider.

How the ADA and FMLA Intersect

The ADA and FMLA can overlap in some situations, entitling employees to the legal protections of both laws. When an employee is covered by the ADA and the FMLA, a covered employer must provide the employee with the rights afforded by both laws: 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave (FMLA) and a reasonable accommodation to allow the employee to perform their essential job functions (ADA).

These laws can overlap because they provide legal protection to employees with physical and mental health conditions and use similar terms, such as illness and disability. Due to their requirements, the ADA and FMLA intersect when an employer has 50 or more employees. For example, if an employee has exhausted their FMLA leave, they may be entitled to additional protections under the ADA, including addition- al leave, if they have a qualifying disability.

Strategies for Navigating the Intersection of the ADA and FMLA

Employers can consider the following strategies to help them navigate the intersection of the ADA and the FMLA:

  • Consider each law’s purpose.
  • Understand each law’s requirements.
  • Evaluate an employee’s situation under each law separately.
  • Apply the law that provides the most benefit.

Navigating the intersection of the ADA and the FMLA can be challenging. However, understanding how these laws overlap can help employers better comply with the ADA and FMLA, reduce the risk of costly errors and protect employee rights.

Contact Christensen Group Insurance for more information.

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