What Employers Should Know About ADA Leaves of Absence 

October 20, 2023

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities that impact their day-to-day life. However, the requirements around the ADA for employers can be challenging to understand, especially when a leave of absence is requested or should be offered as a workplace accommodation. In this article, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about ADA leaves of absence.

What is leave as an accommodation? (Also referred to as an ADA leave of absence or disability leave)

When employees are unable to perform their job duties due to a medical condition, illness, or disability, employers can grant an authorized absence from work. Disability-related leaves are designed to provide employees with the necessary time off to address their health-related needs while maintaining job protection and, in some cases, continued compensation or benefits.

How does disability-related leave interact with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

In some cases, employees may be eligible for leave from both FMLA and as an accommodation under the ADA. Each has different eligibility requirements, so here is a quick comparison.


  • Provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family or medical reasons.
  • Applies to all government employers (local, state and federal) and to private businesses with 50 or more workers within 75 miles (with some exceptions).
  • Covers employees that have worked at least 1,250 hours at the same employer.
  • Applies when an employee or their loved ones have a serious health condition, and in some other circumstances such as military service.
  • Has no provision for “undue hardship” on the employer.

The ADA:

  • Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with covered disabilities.
  • Applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Applies when an employee has a disability that interferes with their ability to perform their job and major life activities.
  • Accommodations provided must not pose an “undue burden” on the employer.
  • Employees and employers must engage in the interactive process to determine what accommodation (if any) will be provided.

Most often, it is employers with more than 50 employees that have workers that may be covered under both the ADA and FMLA. The most common case for an employee being eligible for disability leave is if they meet the definition of disability under the ADA and a serious health condition under the FMLA. Though, there are numerous other situations where both could apply to leave.

When an employee exhausts all their available FMLA leave, they may still be eligible for additional unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA if they meet the definition of a person with a disability.

How long can an ADA leave of absence be?

There is no specific guidance on the amount of time that is required to be provided as an accommodation under the ADA. By undergoing the interactive process with the employee, the amount of leave granted can be determined on a case-by-case basis. To stay compliant, the amount of leave granted should be equitable between similarly situated employees.

Is disability-related leave paid or unpaid?

ADA leaves of absence could be either paid or unpaid. This largely depends on company policies and applicable state laws. Because ADA leave is a reasonable accommodation, it cannot impose undue hardship on the employer, so it must be for a defined period of time. If the leave is unpaid, the employee’s job and benefits must still be protected and available to them when they return to work. Whether or not a leave is paid or unpaid, or how long the leave is, employees should have the ability to return to work.

What are some reasons an employee might need to take leave under the ADA?

The ADA is wide-ranging and covers many conditions that might interfere with an employee’s ability to perform their job duties. Some common reasons that an employee might request leave under the ADA include:

  • To recover from surgery or medical treatment
  • To manage one or more chronic health conditions
  • To treat mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety
  • To recover from an injury
  • Conditions related to pregnancy (which may also make them eligible to be covered under the PWFA)

What are some best practices for managing and tracking ADA leave?

When an employee experiences a major life event, such as a serious illness or prolonged military leave, multiple federal laws, state regulations, and company policies can apply. The overlap between paid sick leave, FMLA, and ADA can be especially complex.

Employers should help employees fully understand their rights, responsibilities, and process for requesting leaves of absence under the ADA. Employers, especially large ones, should also have clear policies and procedures in place to handle requests for disability–related leave. With a large employee base comes a lot of requests, and you want to be sure that every case follows the same process every time to stay compliant and avoid complaints from the employment opportunity commission (EEOC).

Additionally, employers should educate all employees regularly about how to request an accommodation. HR teams should also ensure the interactive process is started and completed for every request, every time. The interactive process fosters two-way discussion and ensures that the employee and employer can explore options. For ADA-related leave, this could include working together to find the right length of time for the leave to be, or even intermittent leave that can be taken periodically.

One way to improve communication, remove complexity, and ensure the interactive process is completed every time is by leveraging a leave management system that also manages and tracks accommodations. Solutions like AbsenceSoft can quickly let you know what leaves an employee is entitled to, and track to see when leave benefits have been exhausted. It also fully documents and tracks the interactive process should an employee request additional leave under the ADA or PWFA. If you would like to see AbsenceSoft’s leave and accommodations features in action, schedule a demo today.