Keeping the Balls in the Air: Interplay Between the ADA and the FMLA
By Marti Cardi, JD
VP Product Compliance
Matrix Absence Management
Employers face challenges when an employee’s health condition might provide protections under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). ADA and FMLA rights intersect and sometimes collide.
In this scenario, an employer must honor the employee’s rights — whether for leave or accommodation — under whichever statutory provision provides the greater rights to the employee in a specific situation. Moreover, the FMLA and the ADA can apply simultaneously or sequentially, and an employee’s needs and requests may change over time as the employee’s situation progresses.
Remember as we discuss ADA rights that an employee is only entitled to an accommodation if it is reasonable, will be effective to enable the employee to perform the essential job functions, and does not impose an undue hardship to the employer. Those three principles are always present when considering an ADA accommodation. However, undue hardship is a hard factor to prove and should be relied on sparingly. Large corporations in particular garner little sympathy from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the courts when they claim a proposed accommodation poses undue expense or operational difficulty.
Right to a Leave of Absence
Employees may have a right to a job-protected leave of absence under both the FMLA and the ADA if their employer is covered by these statutes (FMLA, 50 or more employees; ADA, 15 or more employees). Such right is not unfettered or unlimited, however.
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