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Understanding the Interaction between FMLA Leave and Short-Term Disability

I have many clients who come to me confused about their entitlement to FMLA and short term disability (STD), in cases where an employer offers STD benefits to the employee. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C §§ 2601, et seq., entitles eligible employees working for covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. However, FMLA covers only the entitlement to take the leave under federal law, and the duty of the employer to hold a job open for the employee to return to at the end of the leave. An employee must have the requisite hours worked (1250), time in service (1 year) and the employer must be of such a size that they have a duty to hold open a position (50 full time employees or equivalents in a 75-mile radius).   FMLA leave is unpaid.

Whether or not you get FMLA leave is a much different question from whether or not you are entitled to STD benefits and vice versa. You may not meet the  requirements of FMLA under federal law, but the employer may have its own leave policy that grants an employee time off. Many teachers and others working under a collectively bargained plan have protected leave time granted under the bargaining agreement, in addition to FMLA.  Whether or not you get STD coverage is a medical decision to be determined by the Plan, not an entitlement to the time off.  The allowance of STD is an insurance benefits’ decision, and not an allowance of leave.  During any leave time allowed, the employer may require the employee to use vacation or other PTO and then apply for STD benefits. You may be entitled to STD benefits yet still lose your job because you have no protected leave available to you.  It is important for an employee to understand these distinctions, and their rights under the law.

For more information see the resources below or contact Kimberly Ashbach.

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