Reconciling ADA requirements with FMLA requirements may be challenging. (AP photo/John S. Stewart)

Disability benefits producers who market absence management services are discovering a frightening truth: As complicated as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other state and federal leave laws are, understanding them is just one step on an ankle-twisting path.

In addition to tripping up employers all on their own, leave laws interact with other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Angie Brown of ClaimVantage, a company that sells disability and absence management systems, has come up with a list of five tips on ways to avoid FMLA-ADA traps. 

She notes that FMLA-ADA traps have led to alarming settlement agreements. In one, announced two years ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) got a trucking company to pay a $4.85 million settlement.

Why? The trucking company terminated employees after their 12 weeks of FMLA leave was up. The EEOC argued that the company should have taken the time to see if it should have provided some or all of the employees with more leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. 

Brown says these measures can help an employer reduce FMLA-ADA trap risk:

  1. Start thinking about how to proceed about three weeks before the FMLA leave time expires.
  2. Ask for medical information that supports the employee’s need for extended leave or other accommodations. 
  3. Talk about the need for any workplace accommodations with the employee.
  4. Recognize that leave itself may be an accommodation.
  5. Document every interaction in a precise and thorough way.