The Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and short-term disability are separate and distinct forms of protection for employees who encounter medical problems. However, because employees generally use their short-term disability in conjunction with their FMLA leave, people often confuse the scope of protection afforded under each.
Under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2612, certain employers are required to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of medical leave in a 12-month period. An employer falls under the FMLA umbrella if the employer employed 50 or more employees for at least 20 work weeks in the previous year. During the 12-week leave period, the employer is prohibited from taking any adverse action against the employee. However, and importantly, the employee is not entitled to paid time off under the FMLA. In other words, the employee can take this time off without fear of losing his or her job, but the employer is not obligated to make any payments to the employee during this medical leave. Regardless, some employers allow employees to use accrued paid time off during this period.
In contrast, short-term disability is a quasi-insurance policy whereby an employee is entitled to payment of a certain percentage—often 60%—of his or her normal pay rate while the employee is on medical leave. But while short-term disability provides for payment to the employee, employers in Missouri and most other states are not required to offer short-term disability. And even when employers do offer short-term disability, many require their employees to pay all or part of the premium for the coverage. Also, employers generally impose a waiting period for employees to qualify for short-term disability coverage.