Employment Law, Leave Management, Policy, and Compliance

Coordinating FMLA with State and Federal Laws

In this article series, we’ll focus on the intersection of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and how it affects many other laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), workers’ comp, and other state laws that apply to medical or disability leaves. Additionally, the FMLA may intersect with a variety of employer-provided leaves and policies, including those for short- or long-term disabilities. It does not supersede any provision of any state or local law that provides greater family or medical leave rights.   

As a general rule, when the FMLA overlaps with other laws, the employer must follow the law that gives the employee the greatest benefits or is most favorable to the employee. In addition, if a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or your own policy gives employees greater benefits than the FMLA, then follow it as well.

Many states have their own provisions on family and medical leave, including the variations on military family leave discussed in our last installment. Here we’ll look at how to coordinate FMLA other various state and federal laws.

Many state FMLA laws follow the federal FMLA almost verbatim. However, many others differ in the following various respects, including that they may:

  • Apply to smaller organizations;
  • Require you to allow more time off;
  • Cover different reasons for leave, such as domestic violence or school conferences;
  • Cover different people; or
  • Require paid leave.

If both FMLA and state law apply to the same situation, the employer is required to follow the law that gives the employee greater rights. Generally, if leave laws apply to the same situation, they can run concurrently (unless the other leave law says it is available after FMLA leave has been exhausted).

Workers’ Compensation

State workers’ compensation laws may come into play when an employee takes leave because of a workplace illness or injury. As discussed above, you may require the workers’ compensation leave to run concurrently with FMLA leave.

If the employee’s workers’ compensation leave ends first, you may be required to allow continued leave under the FMLA if the employee still suffers from a serious health condition. On the other hand, if the employee runs out of FMLA leave first, the result will vary by state.

In some states, the employer may terminate the employee—in spite of the fact that he is still on workers’ compensation leave—if it has a uniformly applied policy of terminating employees who are unable to return to work at the end of FMLA leave.

If an employee is injured on the job in a way that causes her to miss a significant amount of work, the employer will have to work through the application of FMLA, ADA, and workers’ compensation statutes.

Other Requirements

Additional laws or legal requirements that may apply when an employee takes FMLA leave include:

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA governs minimum wage and overtime requirements for employees. In general, employers are not allowed to reduce the pay of an exempt employee for partial-day absences. Doing so may result in the employee (and possibly others in the same job category) losing the exemption and being owed for past overtime worked.
    • One big exception is that employers are allowed to make deductions from exempt employees’ salaries for hours taken as intermittent or reduced FMLA leave within a workweek, without affecting the employee’s exempt status. That is true even if the employee takes FMLA leave in partial-day increments.
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). In general, COBRA continuation coverage is triggered on the last day of an employee’s FMLA leave if the employee does not return to work. It may also be triggered if, while on leave, the employee notifies the employer that she will not return to work at the end of her leave.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Under HIPAA, you are required to comply with its various privacy requirements if you seek medical certification from a HIPAA-covered entity or healthcare provider.
  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA prohibits employers from denying benefits to employees, which could include denying leave under your company’s leave policies to care for an elderly parent.
  • Employer’s benefits plans, CBAs. Employers are also bound by the terms of their own employee benefits plans and CBAs if they provide greater family and medical leave rights than the FMLA. On the other hand, your plans, programs, and CBAs cannot diminish FMLA rights.