The Big Three: ADA, FMLA and Workers' Compensation


The Big Three: ADA, FMLA and Workers' Compensation

By: J'Mella Hinkston


Before We Start:

American with Disabilities Act - The ADA prohibits discrimination against applicants and employees who are "qualified individuals with a disability."
Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 - The FMLA sets minimum leave standards for employees for the birth and care of a newborn child, placement of a child for adoption or foster care, care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, and an employee's serious health condition.
Workers' Compensation - Workers' compensation laws provide for payment of compensation and rehabilitation for workplace injuries, and minimize employer liability.

The three-strand cord of ADA, FMLA, and Workers’ Compensation is not one that can be easily unwound. Trying to remember which law is applicable to the situation at hand can make the head of the most knowledgeable HR professional swirl; however, understanding the fundamentals of each law will keep you and your organization out of hot water. Let’s begin, shall we?

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

Workers’ Compensation provides wage replacement benefits, medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation and other benefits to employees who experience work-related injury or occupational disease.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the following areas: employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services.

That was a lot, I know! However, HR professionals need to understand the interplay of ADA, FMLA, and Workers’ Compensation laws to avoid violations resulting in loss wages, back pay, reinstatement, punitive damages, compensable damages and retroactive benefits. We do so by asking the right questions:


  • Have you seen a doctor?
  • Have you (or has your family member) been an inpatient?
  • Is there an ongoing regimen of treatment?
  • How long do you expect to be gone?

Workers’ Compensation:

  • Did the injury occur during your work shift?
  • Did you notify your supervisor of the injury?
  • Where there any witnesses?
  • What were you doing prior to the accident’s occurrence?


  •  What specific accommodation are you requesting?
  • If you are not sure what accommodation is needed, do you have any suggestions about what options we can explore?
  • Is your accommodation request time sensitive?


Areas of interplay:

Employer coverage:

  • ADA: 15 or more employees for 20 weeks during current or preceding calendar year.
  • FMLA: 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks during current or preceding calendar year.
  • Workers’ compensation: Applies to most, even small employers. State laws govern.

Employee eligibility:

  • ADA: An employee (or applicant) who is disabled, as defined by the ADA, is qualified for the position and can perform the essential functions of the position with or without a reasonable accommodation.
  • FMLA: An employee who has worked at least 12 months and 1,250 hours before the start of the leave and who works at or reports to a worksite at which 50 or more employees work within a 75-mile radius.
  • Workers’ compensation: An employee who has an injury arising out of or in the course of employment, with state law exceptions possible for willful misconduct or intentional self-inflected injuries, willful disregard of safety rules, or intoxication from alcohol or illegal drugs.

Length of leave:

  • ADA: No specific limit for leave that would be provided as a reasonable accommodation that does not create an undue hardship on the employer.
  • FMLA: 12 weeks in the 12-month period as defined by the employer.
  • Workers’ compensation: No specific limit for leave an injured worker may have.

Medical documentation:

  • ADA: Only medical examinations or inquiries regarding an employee’s disability that are job-related and limited to determining ability to perform the job and whether an accommodation is needed and would be effective.
  • FMLA: Medical certification of the need for leave, not to exceed what is requested on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Medical Certification Form.
  • Workers’ compensation: Medical information that pertains to the employee’s on-the-job injury.


  • FMLA sets minimum leave standards.
  • Workers’ compensation laws provide for payment of compensation and rehabilitation for workplace injuries and minimize employer liability.
  • ADA is enforced by the EEOC
  • FMLA is enforced by the DOL
  • Workers’ compensation laws are enforced by state workers’ compensation commissions


We don’t always know what we don’t know until an issue arises. Do yourself a favor, and connect with FMLA, ADA, and Worker’s Comp gurus who don’t mind sharing their intellectual property with you. The more data you’re armed with, the least likely you are to drop the ball. Handle each law with care, as it’s our duty to ensure moral and ethical practices are upheld fairly and consistently throughout our organizations.