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Good Intentions Gone Awry: What Every Employer Should Know About the Interaction of the ADA and FMLA Peter J. Petesch (202) 719-2013.

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Presentation on theme: "Good Intentions Gone Awry: What Every Employer Should Know About the Interaction of the ADA and FMLA Peter J. Petesch (202) 719-2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 Good Intentions Gone Awry: What Every Employer Should Know About the Interaction of the ADA and FMLA Peter J. Petesch (202)

2 Topics to Be Discussed: Employee Rights and Employer Responsibilities under the ADA and FMLA; Defining “Disability” under the ADA and “Serious Health Condition” under the FMLA; Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Individuals who are Otherwise Qualified; Determining Concurrent ADA and FMLA Leaves Implementing Light-Duty Policies

3 Employee Rights and Employer Responsibilities under the ADA and FMLA

4 Covered Employers 50 or more employees Each work day during 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year 15 or more employees Each work day during 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding year FMLA ADA

5 Covered Employees FMLA Individuals working for an employer with 50 or more employees within a 75 mile surface radius Who worked 1,250 hours within previous 12-month period The employer designates the 12-month period used for FMLA purposes Eligibility determined at the time of the request and, once granted, may not be revoked because the employee is later deemed ineligible ADA Any “qualified” individual with a disability An individual is “qualified” if, with or without a reasonable accommodation, he or she can perform all essential job functions Short-term and part-time employees are eligible Applicants are also eligible

6 Covered Condition FMLA Serious health condition of employee or employee’s spouse, child or parent Birth, placement or adoption of a child ADA Recognized physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; Record of such impairment; OR Perceived to be disabled

7 Leave Allowed for Care of Others? FMLA Yes, if spouse or child has serious health condition Modified work schedule required if serious health condition ADA May not discriminate because of association with an individual with a disability Modified work schedule to care for another not required

8 Intermittent / Reduced Leave? FMLA Absolute right for serious health condition Employer discretion for birth, placement, adoption ADA No absolute right Undue hardship defense May lose defense if intermittent leave taken under FMLA

9 Notice by Employer FMLA Posting FMLA poster FMLA policy in handbook or manual (written guidance if neither) Written notice of FMLA rights and obligation upon request for leave Written notice of designation as FMLA leave Notice of certification and fitness for duty certification ADA Post a notice in an accessible format to applicants and employees that describes ADA provisions

10 Notice by Employee FMLA No need to specifically state “FMLA” Foreseeable leave – 30 days Unforeseeable – as soon as practicable, usually verbal notification within 1 or 2 business days ADA Obligation to request reasonable accommodation

11 Medical Exams FMLA Allowed to certify serious health condition or upon employee’s return to work ADA Only to determine ability to do job or for legitimate business necessity (very limited application)

12 Requiring Employees to Demonstrate Fitness for Duty FMLA Need uniform practice for all employees, not just FMLA Only for condition causing FMLA leave No second or third opinion ADA Allowed to determine if still able to perform essential functions of job For reasonable accommodation process Must be job-related and consistent with business necessity

13 Accrual or Continuation of Benefits FMLA Group health continues if employee continues paying required contributions ADA On same terms as all other employees

14 Length of Leave, Termination, and Compensation FMLA 12 weeks per year May be taken intermittently Termination allowed as long as not related to leave (e.g., layoff) Not compensated unless paid leave is substituted for FMLA leave ADA Indeterminate length Termination allowed but must not be on account of disability Compensation on same basis as all other active employees

15 Right to Reinstatement or Retention of Job as Part of Leave? FMLA Guaranteed Same or equivalent position ADA Not guaranteed Must satisfy reasonable accommodation requirements

16 Defining “Disability” under the ADA and “Serious Health Condition” under the FMLA

17 “Disability” Defined An individual is “disabled” if he/she has: a recognized physical or mental impairment - that substantially limits a major life activity; a record of such impairment; OR is regarded as having such an impairment

18 Note on Major Life Activities Caselaw is continually being defined: 8 th Circuit (2005): Lifting restriction is not a substantial limitation on the major life activity of working 4 th Circuit (2006): Ability to eliminate bodily waste 9 th Circuit (2005): Reading 2 nd Circuit (2005): Ability to interact with others –Need severe limitation on the fundamental ability to communicate or connect with other people

19 “Serious Health Condition” Defined Illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves either: In-patient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility; or Continuing treatment by a health care provider (HCP)

20 “Continuing Treatment” Defined Period of incapacity; –Inability to do work, attend school or perform other regular daily activities due to SHC treatment or recovery For more than three consecutive calendar days; AND Treatment two or more times by a HCP; OR Treatment by a HCP on at least one occasion which results in a regimen of continued treatment (e.g. prescription drugs such as antibiotics) –A regimen of continued treatment does not include resting, drinking fluids, taking aspirin or anything else that can be done without visiting a HCP

21 Comparison: ADA vs. FMLA Serious health condition is more broadly defined than disability Many serious health conditions are not covered disabilities under the ADA –Substance Abuse – not a disability, but could be SHC Still not all SHCs are disabilities – temporary nature of pregnancies, hernias, broken bones Some conditions may be both: continuing treatment for cancer or strokes

22 Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Individuals who are Otherwise Qualified

23 Where to Begin Once an employer learns that an employee is a qualified individual with a disability, it must begin an interactive process with that employee to determine the need for a reasonable accommodation: Meet with the employee Document the interactive process – potential defense Gain information about the employee’s disability Discuss alternatives if an accommodation cannot initially - - be agreed upon Do not jump to undue burden defense too quickly – very - -- high burden, especially if the only burden is cost related

24 Obligations Only need to accommodate essential job functions Create written job descriptions before advertising or interviewing applicants –Job descriptions can serve as evidence of essential functions Process does not require participation of third parties, including employee’s attorney Maintain a “good faith” effort Employee has obligations also… –Does not have to specify specific accommodation, but needs to describe problems posed

25 The Term “Reasonable Accommodation” May Include Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities Job restructuring, modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, modification of equipment or devices, adjustment or modification of exams, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers, interpreters or assistants Other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities

26 Undue Hardship Factors to consider when determining whether an accommodation causes an undue hardship include the: nature and cost of the suggested accommodation; financial resources of the particular facility; overall financial resources of the employer; type and operation of the entity; impact of the accommodation on operations; impact and burdens on other employees

27 Determining Concurrent ADA and FMLA Leaves

28 Employer’s Notice Obligations FMLA leave and other paid/unpaid leave may run concurrently if employees are notified that:  Paid sick leave, vacation time, WC, personal leave, and ADA accommodations  Can all be “counted” as FMLA leave Inform employees in handbooks and in response to any employee request for FMLA leave

29 Establishing Concurrent Leave Request enough information from employee to determine if leave is FMLA-protected Notify employee that leave is being designated and will be counted as FMLA leave Provide notification promptly – within 2 business days after learning leave is FMLA-protected Confirm any oral notice in writing by the next payday

30 Retroactive Designation Generally cannot retroactively designate FMLA leave Exceptions:  Learned leave was FMLA-qualifying after employee returned to work; or  Awaiting second or third opinion to confirm leave is qualifying (should preliminarily designate leave as FMLA-qualifying and later confirm or withdraw in writing)

31 Leaves of Absence Determine which laws are applicable  Is the employee disabled?  Is the requested leave covered by FMLA?  Was the employee injured on the job? If disabled, determine if leave is a reasonable accommodation. If leave is a reasonable accommodation, is it also the preferred accommodation for the employer?  If it is, grant leave regardless of whether it exceeds 12 weeks allowed under FMLA (assuming not indefinite and no undue hardship)  If it is not, still must grant leave if covered by FMLA (assuming 12 weeks have not been exhausted)

32 Implementing Light-Duty Policies

33 Light-Duty and the ADA If FMLA leave has been exhausted or is not applicable, an employer can require an employee to accept a light-duty position as a reasonable accommodation

34 Light-Duty and the FMLA If an employee cannot perform the essential functions of his or her job, then he or she has an ABSOLUTE RIGHT to take FMLA leave and can not be required to take a light-duty position If an employee accepts on intermittent or reduced-scheduled leave, then the employer CAN temporarily transfer him or her to a similar position with the same pay and benefits to assist granting leave

35 Questions? Peter J. Petesch (202)


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