The following description may seem quite familiar to those who deal with employee issues on a daily basis. Your employee, who has a physically demanding job on the factory floor, has been out on leave for an injury that he contends is work-related. However, your worker’s compensation insurance carrier has recently denied coverage. Additionally, the employee also has used FMLA intermittently to care for the serious health condition of his spouse before going out on his current leave. And the employee would like to come back to work but his medical condition prevents him from regularly lifting more than 20 lbs., an essential function of the position. In the meantime, the supervisor is complaining and wants an employee who can do the job right now. What are your next steps?

This complicated scenario implicates at least three laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and worker’s compensation (WC). The above scenario requires you to successfully navigate any decision regarding this employee through all three laws. An employer who fails to consider all three could face costly litigation. Here are some key points to guide the process:

Analyze and evaluate the employee’s circumstances under each law separately. In order to do so successfully, you need to understand the purpose and the applicability of each law.

  • The ADA is designed to make the workplace more accessible and prohibits discrimination against a qualified individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job. The ADA applies to an employer with at least 15 employees.
  • The FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by offering unpaid leave and applies to an employer with at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite. The employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours to be FMLA-eligible.
  • WC is designed to provide reimbursement for medical care and lost wages to employees who sustain work-related injuries or illnesses. WC applies to essentially every employee and is typically a state-administered program.
  • Employers must also be aware of other state laws or their own company policies, which may offer more protections and/or greater benefits to eligible employees.

Understand what each law requires. Consider…