The Intersection of Worker’s Comp, FMLA, and ADA

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and state worker’s compensation laws are not mutually exclusive. By qualifying for one, an employee is not automatically disqualified from the others.

For example, an employee who is hurt on the job is not necessarily ineligible for FMLA leave. He still must be an eligible employee, work for a covered employer, and have a serious health condition. If his on-the-job injury resulted in him being absent from work for two days, though, he would not qualify for FMLA because a serious health condition is defined, in part, as an illness or an injury that incapacitates the employee for more than three consecutive days.

And what about an employee who exhausts all of his FMLA leave but is still on disability leave? Can he be terminated if he fails to return to work at the end of the 12-week period? Certainly an employer can terminate an employee who fails to return to work after exhausting all available leave.

But there is another level to this question. If the employee is on disability under the company’s disability-insurance plan, his serious medical condition may very well qualify as a disability, as well, under the ADA. The ADA requires that employers make “reasonable accommodations” for qualified employees. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the courts have taken the position that an accommodation may take the form of a modified work schedule, flexible leave policy, or even just additional time off.

Whenever faced with a decision about whether to terminate an employee who is about to exhaust all of his FMLA time but is not expected to return to work, be sure to consider whether the ADA is applicable and what is required if it is.

For more information on legal compliance with the FMLA and ADA, see the posts in the HR Summer School category, which covers these topics in a comprehensive and no-nonsense style.