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What Really Happens When Your FMLA-Mandated Leave Expires

The Family and Medical Leave Act gives many employees across the country access to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain types of medical and family circumstances. Most notably, employees can take FMLA leave for maternity or paternity leave, to take care of a loved one with a serious health condition, or to take leave due to their own personal serious health condition.

The FMLA, however, is not the only federal law that places requirements on employers regarding employee leave. Many employees have to try and figure out what happens when their FMLA leave runs out.

If you are out on FMLA leave due to paternity or maternity care, then generally speaking, the 12 weeks of unpaid leave is all you get. Some employers may offer paid leave and some employers may offer longer than 12 months. However, if your employer just offers you what is federally mandated, you’re only promised the 12 weeks. The same is typically true if you are caring for a loved one with a serious health condition. It’s not illegal to fire someone who has a family member with a disability, so once your 12 weeks of leave have passed, your employer is no longer required to hold your job under the FMLA.

It is when you are taking leave due to your own disability that the laws get confusing. The FMLA allows employees to take leave due to a serious health condition or injury, but the Americans with Disabilities Act also makes it illegal to fire someone for their disability. The ADA does not require employers to give a specific leave period, but it does require employers to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities on a case-by-case basis. This could mean flexible work schedules or extended periods of leave. This overlap between the FMLA and the ADA means that if you are out on disability, you may be entitled to more than 12 weeks of leave.

Of course, most individuals are concerned not only with job security, but with payment. This is where short-term disability insurance comes into play. If you are disabled from your job and you have short term disability insurance, the amount of payment coverage and leave you are allowed is up to the insurance company, not the employer. Often, this could mean up to 6 months of disability insurance coverage for about 2/3 of your normal pay. Ultimately, if your disability lasts more than 6 months, you typically must apply for long-term disability coverage.

If you incur a disability that makes you unable to perform the essential functions of your job, you are protected and typically able to get leave because of both the FMLA and ADA, assuming that you meet the eligibility requirements. Pay attention to your rights under these laws; any short-term disability insurance you have, and any state laws that may also apply to have the best estimate of what you may be entitled if you have a disability.

Last Updated: April 15, 2015