fmla vs ada

Two of the most important laws for federal employees are the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities (ADA). While the FMLA and the ADA overlap in several ways, they have significant differences too. 

Essentially, both the FMLA and ADA provide special entitlements to employees with health issues or disabilities. The FMLA focuses on providing up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to deal with a medical condition or the condition of a family member. Meanwhile, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities and prohibits disability discrimination in the federal workplace. 

The two laws are complex, but we will provide a fairly simple ADA vs. FMLA cheat sheet in this article. We’ll also explain some of the basic differences between the two laws. But if you have more questions, our federal disability lawyers are standing by to give you the answers you need. 

Contact us online or call (800) 801-0598 today for a consultation.

Understanding Rights with FMLA vs. ADA


The main purpose of the FMLA is to give employees who have a serious health condition (or have a family member with a medical condition) a significant period of leave to deal with that problem.

The leave is unpaid, but employees can take up to twelve weeks per year. To receive the leave, the federal employee must submit a basic form and attach supporting medical documentation. 

To receive a full twelve weeks of leave, you need to:

  • Have not taken any FMLA leave in the last year;
  • Work a full-time scheduled (40 hours per week); and
  • Have supporting medical documentation. 

You can receive FMLA leave as one large block, several small periods, or even as a reduced work schedule. 


On the other hand, the ADA focuses on protecting employees with disabilities. The ADA forbids any kind of discrimination in employment against an employee with a disability. The definition of a disability under the ADA is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities.”

Any employee with a disability can initiate a request for reasonable accommodation. The employee then provides information to their agency regarding their condition and their health limitations. The agency conducts an interactive discussion with the employee to evaluate what possible accommodations are available. 

Accommodation examples include: 

  • A change in work schedule,
  • Teleworking/remote work,
  • Short-term or medium-term leave,
  • Special office equipment, and 
  • Reassignment to a different position. 

Here’s where the two laws cross paths: Medical conditions under the FMLA can qualify as a disability under the ADA.

Similarly, disabilities under the ADA can constitute a serious health condition under the FMLA. That means both laws work together to provide injured, ill, and disabled employees with options to triage their condition and stay employed.

In some situations, unpaid leave might even serve as potential accommodation under the ADA. However, it may continue only as long as it is justified by the employee’s medical paperwork. 

Differences between ADA Leave and FMLA Leave

Unlike leave provided as accommodation through the ADA, FMLA endows military service members with additional protections. If a federal employee has a family member in the armed forces with a serious injury or illness, the employee can take up to 26 weeks of leave every year to care for that service member.

Unlike the ADA, employees can use FMLA leave for the birth and care of a child. Caring for a recently-adopted child is another valid reason for using FMLA. While pregnancy-related conditions can serve as a disability under the ADA, caring for a child does not qualify as a valid disability. 

The role of light duty is another key distinction between the ADA and the FMLA. If an employee applying for leave under FMLA obtains it, their employer cannot force them to work light duty during the leave period. By contrast, light duty can serve as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Have More Questions About FMLA vs. ADA Rights? Give Us a Call Today

Hopefully, you now see the basic features of the ADA and the FMLA. But we know that the law is complicated. We also know that not everyone’s situation fits neatly into one category or another. Whatever your circumstances, we want to hear your story. 

Not all law firms are made equal. Some are made up of experienced attorneys, while others employ brand-new attorneys. And just because a firm features qualified attorneys does not mean that those attorneys have a background in federal employment law.

But we’re not like other firms. Our federal disability attorneys have decades of experience assisting federal employees. We have helped clients from all over the federal government protect their rights and receive the treatment they deserve.

On top of that, we are dedicated to providing sterling customer service. When you choose our firm, our primary goal is to make the legal process a breeze for you. 

Ready to get started? Don’t wait. Call us today at (800) 801-0598 to set up an appointment for a case evaluation. You can also contact us online if that’s easier.