Business Workshop: Medical leave: FMLA v. ADA

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A recent lawsuit should prompt all employers to consider re-examining their medical leave policies to make sure they comply with both the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the case, a hospital had an employee leave policy that followed the requirements of the FMLA, which applies to employers with 50 or more employees. FMLA-eligible employees could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specific family or medical reasons, such as the birth of a child or a serious health condition.

Without exception, the hospital fired any FMLA eligible employee who took more than 12 weeks of leave. It also fired any employees who were not eligible for FMLA leave and were absent from work for a short time.

Although the hospital’s policy complied with the FMLA, it failed to consider that unpaid leave may be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with qualifying disabilities. Under the ADA, employers determine what reasonable accommodations, such as unpaid medical leave, are necessary depending on the employee’s specific disability and the particular circumstances of the job.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on behalf of the fired employees against the hospital. The EEOC claimed that the hospital’s inflexible leave policy violated the ADA because it failed to consider leave as a reasonable accommodation.

To settle the lawsuit, the hospital agreed to pay $1.35 million to its former employees.

The case emphasizes that the FMLA and ADA have distinct requirements regarding employee medical leave. Even if an employer’s policy follows the requirements of the FMLA, the employer should make sure that it also provides the flexibility mandated by the ADA.

— Antoinette Oliver, Meyer, Unkovic & Scott,

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