Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Evaluating the Interplay among FMLA, ADA and Workers' Comp Statutes Isn't Child's Play

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Evaluating the Interplay among FMLA, ADA and Workers' Comp Statutes Isn't Child's Play

Article excerpt

But the game of rocks, paper and scissors continues as counsel try to sort out the overlapping issues of these statutes

THE Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and state workers' compensation statutes regulate various aspects of the employment relationship. Sorting out issues as to which act may control in a particular set of circumstances may cause one to recall childhood and ask whether paper always wraps rocks, scissors always cut paper, and rocks always crush scissors.

For this game, instead of rocks, paper and scissors, the ADA, FMLA, and workers' compensation statutes come into play. In order for employers, insurers, and their counsel to be equipped to respond to issues arising under these acts, it is important to understand the provisions of each act and the interplay between them. While sorting through these acts is not child's play, applying the acts certainly may involve strategy and gamesmanship.

Title I of the ADA (42 U.S.C. [subsections] 12101-12117) protects qualified individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA serves to enable individuals with disabilities to work in the general labor force, and to be free from discrimination while doing so. It requires reasonable accommodation for qualified individuals.

Like the ADA, the FMLA (29 U.S.C. [subsections] 2601-2654) is a broad civil rights law. Among the purposes for which it was enacted were the need "to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, to promote the stability and economic security of families, and to promote national interests in preserving family integrity [and] to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons, for the birth or adoption of a child, or for the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition." The FMLA in general terms requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to all eligible employees.

Workers' compensation statutes are designed to compensate injured workers for the effects of work-related injuries. The primary purposes of most acts are to insure employees against accidental injury, to do justice to workers without expensive litigation and unnecessary delay, and to compensate employees for injuries suffered at work.

Like the ADA and workers' compensation statutes, the FMLA may have an impact on an employer's policies with respect to employee disabilities, injuries and health problems. This article is not an exhaustive analysis of these statutes, but rather is intended to provide basic information necessary to allow the prudent employer or insurer and counsel to understand the importance of the relationship between them and to make knowledgeable employment decisions.


The benefits and coverage provided by the FMLA differ substantially from the benefits and coverage under either the ADA or state workers' compensation statutes. These acts overlap in many areas. Well-informed employers and counsel may be able to use these important acts to their best advantage and to minimize the instances in which they are subjected to adverse consequences of the acts.

The regulations under the FMLA directly address potential conflicts between it and the ADA by stating that an employer must "provide leave under whichever statutory provision provides the greater rights to employees."(1) Bringing workers' compensation issues into the discussion may provide even greater benefits to the employee, particularly when the employer is unwary, as workers' compensation benefits may be paid in addition to the protections afforded under the FMLA or the ADA. As for the interplay between workers' compensation statutes and the ADA, the technical assistance manual issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concerning the ADA specifically provides that "ADA requirements supercede any conflicting state workers' compensation laws. …

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