Navigating the Hazardous Intersection of FMLA, ADA and Workers’ Comp During a Leave of Absence

Human Resources

When it comes to HR, navigating “the Bermuda Triangle” of employment law, the place where the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and workers’ comp intersect and/or overlap can be confusing and challenging for employers.

Each case is different and complex in its own way, and different aspects of these three legal areas may or may not apply in each situation. So, to determine which parts of the triangle might apply to your case, it is necessary to look at (1) the employee and his or her situation and (2) the laws themselves.

Let’s take a look at the applicability of each of these laws.

FMLA. For this law to apply, your organization must have at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of your premises. If your organization has fewer than 50 employees, FMLA is not in the picture.

However, that is not the only limitation. To be eligible for FMLA coverage, an employee must be employed with your organization for at least 12 months, including 1,250 hours (a little over 31 weeks) in the past year. Any prolonged absence from work, for whatever reason, could affect the employee’s eligibility.

FMLA allows eligible employees covered by an employer to take unpaid, job-protected, leave for specified family and medical reasons, or military exigency, with the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

ADA. The standard for ADA for workplace size is much lower than for FMLA. This law applies to entities with 15 or more employees, covering many more organizations. The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to the employee only and does not extend to family members.

Workers’ Comp. These laws apply when an injury or illness occurs while on the job – and the size of the workplace doesn’t matter. Workers’ comp applies to the employee only, not to any family members.

Both FMLA and ADA are federal laws, and workers’ comp is governed by state law. However, your state may have laws that further complicate the FMLA and ADA picture as well. Military status can also be another potentially complicating factor.

The bottom line is that it is necessary to look at the size of your organization, the individual employee and the reason for the leave of absence to determine which laws apply.

In the field of human resources, it is important to pay close attention anytime you are denying benefits that an employee may be entitled to, which could lead to a lawsuit and regulatory penalties.

However, before opening the door to all of the possible benefits under each law, it is best to double check and see which laws apply to each individual case. One of these laws, for example, may apply to the employer, but perhaps not to the employee.

Whatever the case may be, it is helpful to consult an advisor like Summit. Our knowledgeable HR consultants are prepared to share our experience and familiarity with these laws not only over the phone or via email, but also to go to your place of business for an in-person consultation. We do it all the time, and in many cases, we act as extensions of our clients own HR departments.

We hope the next time you are curious about working your way through the intersecting world of FMLA, ADA and workers’ comp, you will call us with your questions or ask for a consultation.

Gracen Johnsen
Senior Vice President- Human Resources