Condition worthy of FMLA leave might not be ADA disability

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

The FMLA and the ADA may seem as though they overlap, but that’s not always the case. A disability under the ADA is almost always a serious health condition under the FMLA, but not every serious health condition is an ADA disability.

Here’s why: Many FMLA serious health conditions are temporary. But to be classified as a disability under the ADA, the condition must be permanent. For example, as a recent case illustrates, someone struck with cancer may be entitled to FMLA leave for treatment, but still may not be covered by the ADA because she recovers after treatment.

Recent case: Patricia Garrett was a university hospital nursing director when she developed breast cancer. She had to have surgery twice, underwent radiation therapy and followed up with chemotherapy. The treatments took almost a full year, but she returned to work intermittently.

Because the cancer and the treatments met the FMLA’s serious health condition definition, she got time off, including intermittent leave, plus extra breaks and more time to complete her work when she needed help. But when she finished her treatments and returned to work full time, she was transferred to another position that did not tax her energy as much as her previous job.

She sued, alleging that she had been demoted because she was disabled. But the court tossed out her case, reasoning that her cancer treatments resulted in short-term and temporary limitations and didn’t substantially impair any major life functions. Therefore, she wasn’t disabled. (Garrett v. University of Alabama, No. 05-11110, 11th Cir., 2007)

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