The short answer is that it can be one and the same but does not necessarily have to be the same. As with most legal questions, the answer is “it all depends on the facts.”

Many employers incorrectly conflate the granting of medical leave with the provision of reasonable accommodation. While there are some circumstances where the granting of medical leave can be a reasonable accommodation, there are still many others where they are not, and this is exactly where many employers get into trouble with the law.

In order to appreciate the distinction between these distinct yet overlapping requirements, it is important to consider the source of each:

The Requirement to Provide Medical Leave

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) provides job security to an employee who is absent from work because of, among other things, the employee’s own serious health condition or to care for specified family members with serious health conditions. Eligible employees of covered employers are entitled to 12 workweeks of leave for defined reasons in a 12-month leave year.

The California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) like the FMLA, provides for 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month leave year for among other things, an employee’s own serious health condition, or to care for a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, domestic partner, or designated person with a serious health condition. Therefore, under both state and federal law, when a covered employee has a serious health condition, his or her employer may have the obligation to provide a leave of absence from work. The goal of this requirement is to provide job security to employees whenever they take time off for a qualifying reason.

The Requirement to Provide A Reasonable Accommodation

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) was enacted in 1990 to protect employment opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities. Title I specifically applies to employment, and prohibits private sector employers and some public-sector employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability. The ADA requires covered employers to accommodate disabled employees. Along the same lines, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with a physical or mental disability to apply for jobs and to perform the essential functions of their jobs unless it would cause an undue hardship. Therefore, under both state and federal law, when a covered employee has a disability, the employer is required to provide an accommodation unless it can prove that doing so would constitute an undue burden.

So, What Is the Difference?

A leave of absence can constitute reasonable accommodation for a disability provided that the leave is what the employee needs. For example, if an employee undergoes surgery and requires time to recuperate, then as an accommodation, the employer may provide a leave of absence from work. On the other hand, it is not difficult to imagine situations where an employee may require some other accommodation, other than taking time off from work.

Depending on the particular situation, a reasonable accommodation could also include any of the following:

  • Making facilities readily accessible to and usable by disabled individuals (e.g., providing accessible break rooms, restrooms, training rooms, or reserved parking places; acquiring or modifying furniture, equipment, or devices; or other similar adjustments);
  • Job restructuring;
  • Offering part-time or modified work schedules;
  • Reassigning to a vacant position;
  • Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies;
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters;
  • Allowing assistive animals on the worksite;
  • Altering when and/or how an essential function is performed;
  • Modifying supervisory methods;
  • Providing additional training;
  • Permitting an employee to work from home;
  • Other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities

Employers Should Contact Akopyan Law Firm A.P.C.

The best approach is to consult ( an experienced employment lawyer for a consultation when questions of this nature arise. Akopyan Law Firm A.P.C. can provide guidance. Contact us today to learn more. Click here to find out how long maternity leave is in California.