Absenteeism: How the FMLA and ADA Interact


Clearly, regular attendance is essential for most jobs, and you generally have the right to discipline, and even terminate employees who do not meet your requirements.  However, before you take action, you should consider whether an employee’s absenteeism is related to medical conditions covered by either the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Both of these laws limit your right to discipline or discharge employees for attendance problems related to certain medical conditions.

How do you make sure you are treating employee absences properly under FMLA and ADA?

Add these steps to your decision-making process before you implement any disciplinary action:

  1. Determine whether the employee has a medical condition that is protected under the FMLA or ADA.  The FMLA covers employees with “serious health conditions,” while the ADA only protects employees who have "disabilities."
  2. If the employee is protected by either law, find out whether the absences are the result of the covered medical condition.  Note that even if the employee is protected, if the absences are not caused by or related to the medical condition, you may take disciplinary action.
  3. Impose disciplinary action only if the absences are not covered by the FMLA or ADA.  In addition, if you do take disciplinary action, make sure you are acting consistently under your policies.
  4. Check with HR Advisors to determine what your liability might be in other states if you have employees housed in states other than California.