Hospital room with no patient

FMLA vs. Short-Term Disability: What's the Difference?

Whether you need to take care of an ill loved-one or you’re injured on the job, you’d probably like to hope that if an unforeseeable circumstance occurs that would prevent you from doing your job, you’d have some job and form of pay protection. What would really be ideal is if you could still get paid if you needed to take an unexpected leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives many employees federal rights to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but many companies and states also give you payment protection through disability insurance.

The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees many workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave with the promise of continued medical benefits (if the worker previously received benefits) as well as a job of equal pay and benefits upon the return from leave. However, there are restrictions as to who is eligible and when you can use FMLA leave. You are only eligible to take FMLA leave if you work for a public agency or a private agency that employees at least 50 people that work within 75 miles of the office location. If you meet that requirement, you also have to have worked for the agency for at least 12 months, and within that time, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours.

FMLA leave is generally for the extended care of yourself or a family member due to serious medical illness or injury, or for paternity/maternity leave. It doesn’t apply to sick leave and it isn’t paid leave. However, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with disabilities that prevent the employee from performing the essential function of the job. This is where short-term disability insurance comes into play.

While employers aren’t federally required to protect employee pay during leave, they are required to make reasonable accommodations that protect job leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Short-term disability is seen as a medical illness or injury that leaves an employee unable to work for 12 weeks or less. Federally, if the worker was injured on the job, their pay is protected under workers’ compensation. Employers are not required to provide paid leave, but many employers do have short term disability insurance plans. These plans pay for a portion of the employee’s pay during medical leave. It is essentially paycheck protection, and can be offered as a benefit alongside health insurance. Some companies pay for the disability insurance, and others offer it to come out of the employee’s paycheck. Either way, disability insurance is essentially paycheck insurance.

If you want to have some peace of mind when it comes to a sudden disability that could occur, short-term disability insurance is a great way to ensure that if something unforeseeable happened, you wouldn’t be out of pay entirely. If you need to take medical or family leave, it’s important to know your rights under the FMLA and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Last Updated: April 15, 2015