FMLA vs. ADA: Understanding the Differences

FMLA Family Medical Leave Act, the text is written in a notebook, next to a pen, a disposable medical mask and a laptop on a linen background - fmla vs ada concept

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are two federal laws that protect workers. Importantly, employees with disabilities or serious health conditions should have a basic understanding of both — and be aware of the difference between the ADA and FMLA. While these statutes serve distinct purposes and apply in different situations, they can sometimes overlap.

Here’s what workers should know about the difference between the ADA and FMLA:

What is the FMLA?

The FMLA protects an employee’s right to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. The statute covers employees who have serious health conditions, illnesses, injuries, and impairments that involve an overnight stay in a hospital or treatment facility. It also applies to conditions related to pregnancy and those that result in a period of incapacity for more than three calendar days in a row.

The FMLA mandates that an employee of a covered employer may take 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period for any of the following:

  • The birth, adoption, or foster care of a child
  • To care for their own serious health condition
  • To care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • To deal with a “qualifying exigency” regarding the military deployment of their spouse, son, daughter, or parent

In addition, an eligible employee may take 26 weeks of leave within a 12-month period to care for a service member with a serious service-connected injury or health condition.

Critically, the FMLA applies to all government employers at the local, state, and federal levels — it also covers most private businesses that employ 50 or more workers within a 75-mile radius. In order to be eligible for FMLA protections, a worker must have worked at least 1,250 hours for one year before taking the leave and have worked for the company for at least 12 months. FMLA leave time can also be extended by allowing an employee to work reduced hours, depending upon their health condition.

What is the ADA?

In contrast with the FMLA, the ADA protects workers who have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations when necessary to employees with disabilities. It also prohibits discrimination due to disability status. Depending on an employee’s specific circumstances, some common examples of reasonable accommodations can include the following:

  • Modifying an employee’s schedule
  • Allowing an employee to take more frequent breaks
  • Permitting an employee to take a leave of absence
  • A job reassignment
  • Changing job tasks
  • Providing reserved parking
  • Making the existing facilities more accessible
  • Modifying equipment necessary to carry out job tasks
  • Service animals

An employer does not have to provide an employee with every type of accommodation. An accommodation is considered reasonable as long as it does not impose an undue hardship on the employer — if an accommodation would result in significant difficulty or considerable expense for an employer, they would not be required to provide it. Notably, a major difference between the ADA and FMLA is that the ADA does not include a specific leave requirement like the one set forth in the FMLA. However, an employee may be entitled to unpaid leave under the ADA if there is no other effective accommodation available and the leave does not cause undue hardship for the employer.

When Do the FMLA and ADA Overlap?

While there are many differences between the ADA and FMLA, there are certain instances in which these acts might overlap — and both laws would apply. Generally, employees who meet the statutory criteria may be protected by both the FMLA and ADA. In other words, employees may have rights under both statutes if they can satisfy the definition of “serious health condition” under the FMLA and “disability” under the ADA.

A worker who has used up their 12 weeks of FMLA leave may still be able to assert their rights under the ADA if they have a disability as defined by the statute. Not only may an eligible worker be provided with a reasonable accommodation, but in certain cases, the accommodation might include additional leave beyond that provided under the FMLA. The ADA might also apply in cases where an employee has a disability but would not otherwise be eligible for FMLA leave.

Contact an Experienced Ohio Employment Law Attorney

If you believe you might qualify for employment-related protections under the FMLA or the ADA, it’s vital to understand your rights. Located in Westlake and providing capable counsel to clients throughout Ohio, employment law attorney Chris Lalak is dedicated to upholding the rights of employees for FMLA and ADA matters — and works to achieve the best possible outcome in every case. Contact Lalak LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can help.

Categories: FMLA