Employees may be entitled to medical or disability leave under two federal laws, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which can also be utilized in tandem.
The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of leave in any 12-month period that eligible employees can take due to a severe health condition, the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child, or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. The Act applies to all government and private employers with more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Employees are eligible for FMLA benefits if they have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months and completed at least 1,250 work hours over the preceding 12 months.
The ADA requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations, enabling them to perform their job functions unless the accommodation causes the employer undue hardship. Leave is considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.
However, the ADA does not specify the amount of leave an employee is granted. Leave periods for ADA reasonable accommodation are generally determined on a case-by-case basis between the employer and the employee, specific to the employee’s needs. The amount of leave granted must give the employee enough time to heal to the point that they can perform their essential job functions. Leave can be taken all at once or distributed over a period of time, such as for attending recurring medical appointments.
Depending on the employee’s specific circumstances, both Acts can be used in tandem. Workers who have used their allotted FMLA leave may be eligible for additional leave under the ADA if they meet the definition of a person with a disability. Pregnancy, for instance, may be covered by both the FMLA and ADA guidelines if the employee develops a pregnancy-related impairment or health condition. Workers not covered by FMLA, such as those who have not worked the requisite hours, may qualify for leave under the ADA instead.
Other leave aspects addressed by the FMLA and ADA are listed below.
Sometimes, an employee submits a series of additional three-month leave requests as their previous leave ends. While there are different state laws pertaining to indefinite leave, employers are not obligated under the ADA to grant indefinite leave.
Leave-of-absences should have an estimated return-to-work date, and employers can weigh such requests under the ADA’s “undue hardship” on a case-by-case basis. Undue hardship typically constitutes a disruption of operations or financial hardship due to an employee’s absence or accommodation. It is up to the employer to prove that the employee’s requested leave accommodation causes the employer an undue hardship. Before deciding on additional leave, employers should consider whether:
- Another employee can fill in for the disabled employee on leave.
- Certain tasks of the disabled employee can be assigned to other employees.
- Certain tasks can be put on hold during the employee’s absence.
- Additional leave will cause significant expense or difficulty.
Employers are required to continue providing health insurance coverage to employees on FMLA leave. The ADA does not require employers to do so. However, they cannot treat employees on ADA leave differently than employees on FMLA leave and should follow the FMLA regulations regarding insurance coverage.
Return to Work
The FMLA and ADA return-to-work requirements differ:
- FMLA: Employees on FMLA leave must return to the same position they had before leave or an equivalent position unless the employee holds a key position that would cause the employer serious financial hardship. Workers are protected from termination during FMLA leave unless there are company-wide layoffs or other unrelated terminations.
- ADA: Generally, employees returning from ADA leave as a reasonable accommodation should be returned to their previous position unless they can no longer perform the position’s essential functions or if holding the job open caused the employer an undue hardship. In such instances, employers must reassign employees to a vacant position they are qualified to perform. If no equivalent job exists or the employee’s original position was eliminated for non-discriminatory reasons, the employer can offer a lesser, vacated position.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Requesting FMLA or ADA Leave
If you need assistance requesting leave – or have been denied leave – speak with our Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Call 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Lehigh County, and Montgomery County.