ADA & Disabilities, Leave Management, Policy, and Compliance

Are Employers Required to Provide Disability Leave?

An employee or applicant who is disabled (or who qualifies as disabled) has the right to the legal protections granted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But does that right extend to the right to take leave related to the individual’s disability?

The answer is both yes and no.

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides that employers must not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in regards to any hiring decision or employment benefit. It, however, does not specifically outline a requirement that an employer must provide disability leave to qualified individuals.

That said, the ADA does require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled individuals when necessary, as long as those accommodations do not cause undue hardship on the employer. There are plenty of different circumstances in which a disabled individual may request a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation, and the employer may then be obligated to provide such, as long as it did not cause undue hardship to do so, and there were no other reasonable accommodations that could be used instead.

So, under the ADA, disability leave is not specifically required, but it could nonetheless be required if it is a truly reasonable accommodation for an employee.

Other Laws Impacting Disability Leave

The ADA isn’t the only law that may indirectly result in an employer providing disability leave. There are other laws that may create the same result, even if they also don’t say so outright.

For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious health condition. Many types of disabilities would meet the criteria for “serious health condition” and thus make a disabled individual eligible for leave under the FMLA rules. (And when that person exhausts all FMLA leave, he or she may still be entitled to further leave if it could be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, as noted above.)

Another example would be Workers’ Compensation laws. While these vary by state, most require employers to allow injured workers to take paid time off while recovering from a workplace injury, and if the injury also qualifies as a disability, this would, in essence, be a form of disability leave, even if it’s not called such.

It’s also entirely possible that all of these leave laws will apply simultaneously to the same individual, which means employers are tasked with determining which leave provisions apply at a given time, and finding ways to remain legally compliant with all intersecting medical and disability laws at once.

Disability Insurance Also Plays a Role

Beyond the laws noted above, there is also the possibility of providing disability leave under a disability insurance program.

At the state level, there are a few states that provide disability insurance. Disability insurance provides pay for workers who need to take a leave of absence related to a disability. (Typically, these policies only pay out for non-work-related disabilities, with the expectation that workers’ compensation insurance will cover instances in which the disability was brought about at work, as noted above).

Employers are also free to create their own disability leave policies and/or to provide short and/or long-term disability insurance for employees to cover partial wages in the event of a need to take disability leave. Bear in mind that there is no federal requirement to provide separate disability leave, and even disability insurance does not automatically come with job protection unless the employer’s policy voluntarily provides such protection.