Interaction Between FMLA & ADA – Don’t Get Tripped Up

May 6, 2008

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turns 15 this year and workers’ rights advocates, the Bush Administration and the Labor Department are weighing in on proposed changes to the law. According to an April 24 article in the Washington Post,

“…workers would have to tell their bosses in advance when they take nonemergency leave, instead of being able to wait until two days after they left. They would have to undergo "fitness-for-duty" evaluations if they took intermittent leave for medical reasons and wanted to return to physically demanding jobs. To prove that they had a "serious health condition," they would have to visit a health-care provider at least twice within a month of falling ill. What’s more, employers would have the right to contact health-care providers who authorized leave.”

As I reviewed these proposals it occured to me that some of these changes may serve to blur the distinction between the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). It is not uncommon for employees to bring claims under both the FMLA and ADA. Avoid getting tripped up in the similarities of FMLA and ADA by understanding the distinctions between the two laws.



  • is enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL)
  • is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
  • applies to employers with 50 or more employees
  • applies to employers with 15 or more employees
  • eligible employees must have been employed for at least 12 months and worked 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months of employment
  • no eligibility restrictions
  • only requires an individual (or family member) to have a "serious health condition"
  • only covers individuals with a disability
  • there may be individual liability
  • no individual liability
  • no punitive or emotional damages can be awarded
  • punitive and emotional damages can be awarded