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Know your FMLA and ADA employment rights

Processing a new illness or disability diagnosis can be challenging, especially when thinking about how it might impact your job and employment—and if you need to tell anyone at work. However, it’s important to know that there are protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and you might be eligible. 

What’s FMLA, and how does it work?

FMLA prevents discrimination against eligible employees who need to take unpaid time off from work if they have a serious health condition that makes them unable to perform the essential functions of their job or if they need to care for a family member. This shouldn’t be confused with paid time off (PTO) or vacation. 
 
It provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. FMLA also protects group health benefits, if you need to take a leave from work for an illness. Your benefits must be maintained while on FMLA leave, as if you were still working.1
 
The law also protects your job when you need to take time off. Your employer must give you the same or an equivalent position when you return. 
 
Who’s eligible for FMLA? 
 
First, your employer must be covered by the law, this includes:
 
  • Public agencies, including local, state, and federal government employers 
  • Local educational agencies, including public school boards, and public and private elementary and secondary schools 
  • Private employers with 50 or more employees in 20 or more work weeks in the current or previous calendar years 
 
Second, you must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, worked 1,250 hours for your employer during the 12-month period immediately before your FMLA leave begins, and worked in a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles (for remote workers, this means the office you'd report to).  
 
Learn more about FMLA at DOL.gov
 
Requesting a medical leave of absence 
 
Once you decide to take medical leave, you should discuss with your manager the amount of time you’ll need. Your manager and your Human Resources (HR) representative can explain your company’s policies and any documentation requirements. Some employers may require proof from your doctor.  
 
Also, check with your employer—some employers and states offer paid medical leave. 

What’s ADA, and how does it work?

Under the ADA, you have the right to request reasonable accommodations from your employer, if covered, to perform the essential functions of your job. Your employer can’t discriminate against you because of your disability or illness. 
 
Who does the ADA protect? 
 
The ADA protects people who work for any employer with 15 or more employees. Also, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to be protected by ADA you must have a record or evidence of substantial impairment that significantly limits or restricts a major life activity, like hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing, or performing manual tasks. 
 
What's considered reasonable accommodations under the ADA? 
 
You can request a workplace accommodation if there is a barrier preventing you from performing your job effectively, because of a disability. Some examples of reasonable accommodations include: 
  • Modifying equipment or devices 
  • A part-time or a flexible schedule 
  • Reassignment of marginal tasks 
To learn more, check out ADA.gov

Do you need to tell your employer about your injury or diagnosis?

 Not necessarily, but be mindful that some treatments or conditions may affect your performance. Once you know more about symptoms or side effects, you'll be better able to decide when, or whether to tell your employer.  
 
You aren’t required to tell them about a health condition unless you plan to request a medical leave of absence using FMLA or if you need workspace accommodations protected with the ADA. 
 
If you don’t anticipate the need for either of those, then you aren’t required to tell anyone at work.  
 
Talking to your manager and HR 
 
If you decide to tell your employer, starting with your manager or direct supervisor may be best—just be mindful that they may be required to share your information with their supervisors. Also, consider talking with someone in your company’s Human Resources (HR) department. HR representatives are better able to communicate any potential benefits or accommodations that may be available and help make sure the company complies with the law.  
 
Talking with team members or other employees 
 
Every workplace is different. Some may be supportive and encouraging, while other environments are competitive. If you think your diagnosis could impact your work performance or you’ll need time off, tell people who will be affected—how much to tell, and when, is up to you. 

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More to explore

1. “Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA),” U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla.

This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.

Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

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