FMLA and ADA Compliance: Avoiding Employment Litigation

Close up on a file tab with the word employees plus a note with the text sick leaves, blur effect at the background. Visual concept image for blog tips for employers on complying with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to prevent legal disputes.

When employees are sick, have a disability, or request leave to support their family, employers must ensure they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Determining when and how these laws apply can be complicated, and a mistake can lead to penalties, fines, and legal fees.

The labor and employment lawyers at RKPT are routinely called upon to provide legal advice and guidance on FMLA eligibility, ADA compliance, and other issues related to employees dealing with physical or mental health conditions. Here, we offer an overview of the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, identify situations where the two laws intersect, and offer advice on how to avoid employment litigation by remaining compliant.

Ohio FMLA Laws

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific medical and family situations. The FMLA applies to employers who employ 50 or more workers in 20 or more weeks during the current or calendar year. Eligible employees can generally take up to 12 weeks of leave annually for qualifying FMLA conditions.

Who Is Eligible for Leave Under the FMLA?

To be eligible for FMLA leave, the employee must:

  • Work for a covered employer.
  • Have worked for their employer for at least 12 months.
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months.
  • Work at a location where at least 50 employees are employed by their employer within a 75-mile radius.

Understanding FMLA Eligibility

Common reasons an employee can request FMLA leave include:

  • The birth of a child or placement of a child for adoption or foster care.
  • A “serious health condition” that prevents the employee from performing essential job functions.
  • To care for a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition.

A “serious health condition” is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that requires inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider.

Do You Get Paid for FMLA in Ohio?

FMLA leave is generally unpaid unless the employee has accrued sick leave, vacation hours, or other compensatory hours they can use for the leave.

An employee who has medical, dental, vision, supplemental life, short-term disability coverage, or a flexible spending account can continue these coverages as long as the employee continues to pay the employee share of the coverage.

When FMLA leave is over, the employee must be returned to the same or an equivalent position, with the same benefits, pay, and conditions of employment as they held at the beginning of the leave. However, if employees lose their jobs during a leave for reasons unrelated to leave, such as a general layoff, the FMLA does not entitle them to return.

The Americans with Disabilities Act: Understanding ADA Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits covered employers from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities. It applies to employers who have 15 or more employees.

Who Qualifies for Protection Under the ADA?

The ADA prohibits discrimination based on a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits a major life activity. “Major life activities” include actions like eating, sleeping, walking, and breathing; cognitive functions like thinking and concentrating; and sensory functions like seeing and hearing.

Employees or job applicants are covered under the ADA if they can, with or without reasonable accommodation, fulfill the essential functions of a specific job role. Essential functions refer to the fundamental duties an employee must be capable of performing, with or without accommodation. Factors that determine whether a function is essential include:

  • Whether the position exists to perform that function.
  • The number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the function can be distributed.
  • The degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function.

Where the FMLA and the ADA Intersect

In certain situations, both the FMLA and the ADA apply to grant employees combined legal protection under both laws. These laws overlap in their shared objective of protecting employees who have physical or mental health conditions and their use of similar terms, such as illness and disability. When an employee is covered by both the FMLA and the ADA, the employer must ensure the employee receives benefits under both laws, including 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA and reasonable accommodations to enable the employee to perform essential job functions as required by the ADA.

Avoid Litigation by Ensuring Compliance with the FMLA and ADA

Navigating compliance with the FMLA and the ADA can be challenging. Understanding how these laws apply helps employers comply, protects employee rights, and reduces the likelihood of costly errors.

Employers who fail to comply with the FMLA or ADA face the possibility of lawsuits, penalties, and expensive legal fees. Preventing labor and employment lawsuits based on alleged violations of the FMLA or ADA is a cornerstone of RKPT’s labor and employment practice. We help our clients avoid litigation by taking a proactive approach, providing practical solutions to the most challenging employment issues. But when litigation is necessary, our labor and employment lawyers provide aggressive representation in state and federal courts and before the administrative agencies that regulate employment relationships. If you are a business owner concerned about the prospect of a wrongful termination lawsuit we invite you to read our blog on the subject.

To put our experience to work for you, contact the labor and employment lawyers at RKPT today.