How Are FMLA and Short-Term Disability Different?

If you’re unable to work due to a medical condition or injury, a human resources representative might give you information about short-term disability insurance and FMLA leave. At first glance, these two programs might seem very similar, since they both offer protections when you’re unable to work. However, they’re quite different.

Bryant Legal Group’s disability insurance lawyers focus on short-term and long-term disability claims, not employment-related issues like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Still, our clients often have questions about how these rules and regulations interact. Keep reading to learn the difference between short-term disability vs. FMLA.

What Is FMLA Leave?

The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that gives employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave (consecutive or non-consecutive) when they or their family members are ill. When you are on FMLA leave, your employer cannot terminate your job. You should be able to return to work after your leave to the same position and pay rate. You should also keep your health insurance benefits while you’re on leave (as long as you pay your portion of the insurance premium).

However, not all workers are eligible for FMLA. You can request unpaid time off if you meet the following requirements:

  • You or a family member have a serious health condition
  • You added a child to your family by birth, adoption, or a foster care placement
  • Your employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of your workplace
  • You have worked for the company for at least 12 months, although they do not need to be consecutive
  • In the past 12 months, you have worked at least 1,250 hours

There are also circumstances where you can request unpaid leave for bereavement or due to a family member’s military deployment. Both full-time and part-time employees can request FMLA leave.

Please note that Bryant Legal Group does not handle Family Medical Leave Act litigation. If you have questions about your FMLA rights, you should contact the Department of Labor or an employment law attorney.

What Is Short-Term Disability?

Many employers offer short-term disability benefits to their employees. Typically, these companies purchase insurance plans, although some large employers are self-funded. Companies are not required to provide these policies. If they do, they can set your portion of the monthly premium however they choose.

If you can convince the claims adjuster that you meet the standard set out in your plan, you’ll receive a monthly benefit check until you can return to work or a set amount of time passes. The amount varies based on your policy, but is usually around 60% of your standard income. While some short-term disability plans will pay out benefits for a year or more, the average policy will cover you for 3-6 months.

Bear in mind that short-term disability plans to not cover workplace injuries, nor do they prevent your employer from terminating you.

Can I Get Short-Term Disability Benefits While on FMLA?

It depends. FMLA and short-term disability policies take different approaches to time off. Under most short-term disability policies, you must prove that your medical conditions or injuries are disabling.

Short-term disability policies define “disability” in several ways, and you need to understand your plan’s approach:

  • Own occupation: You must prove that you cannot do your actual job, due to your health conditions and injuries.
  • Any occupation: You are disabled if you are unable to perform any type of work.

You can find your policy’s definition in either its Plan Document or Summary Plan Description. (And if you need help understanding these documents, schedule a free consultation with Bryant Legal Group.)

If you meet these criteria and your policy’s other terms and conditions, you might be eligible for a monthly disability insurance payment.


When Can I Not Use Short-Term Disability and FMLA Concurrently?

The Family Medical Leave Act covers “serious health conditions” — including illnesses, injuries, and chronic health issues that require inpatient care or ongoing medical treatment. This includes a wide variety of conditions and circumstances, some of which might not qualify for short-term disability.

  • After a back surgery, you might take 12 consecutive weeks of FMLA leave
  • You might take three days of FMLA leave each time you undergo a chemotherapy treatment
  • Due to severe, diagnosed morning sickness, you might take intermittent unpaid leave (sometimes just a few hours at a time)

While a back surgery that requires a 12-week recovery period would likely qualify for short-term disability, the other two examples might not result in short-term disability benefits.

FMLA also covers situations that do not involve a serious medical condition, like parental leave and bereavement. These circumstances are rarely covered by short-term disability.

For example, a father can take unpaid leave under FMLA when his child is born, adopted, or placed in their home. However, he would not be eligible for short-term disability, because he does not have a medical condition or injury that prevents him from working. However, a mother who gave birth to a child is likely eligible for a brief period of short-term disability benefits.

If you take away anything from this article, it should be this: While employers can require their employees to use FMLA while they’re away from work, they cannot require them to use their short-term disability. If you have one of these plans, that choice is entirely up to you. (In fact, your employer cannot legally consult you on what they think you should do.) But don’t forget that if you choose not to use your short-term disability concurrently with FMLA, your employer is not required to pay you while you’re on leave.

Bryant Legal Group: Chicago’s Respected Disability Insurance Team

At Bryant Legal Group, we’ve earned a reputation for our practical, client-focused approach to disability insurance law. If you have questions about your short-term disability claim, our team can help you build a plan and educate you about your legal options. We assist people in Chicago and throughout Illinois with their disability insurance claims and appeals.

To schedule your free consultation, please call us at 312-561-3010 or complete this brief online form.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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