Know the Law: Is my employee entitled to medical leave?

November 21, 2016

Published in the Union Leader (11/21/2016)

Q. One of my employees (John) just told me that he is ill and needs to take a medical leave so he can receive treatment. Do I have to approve the medical leave? If so, do I have to pay him while he is on leave?

A. John may be entitled to leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The FMLA applies to organizations that employ 50 or more individuals within 75 miles for at least 20 weeks in the current or preceding year. If your business meets that criteria, all of your employees who have been with the company for at least 12 months and have performed 1,250 hours of work during that time are eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave per year. If John is eligible, he may be entitled to leave if he has a serious health condition. 

The FMLA includes specific guidelines for what constitutes a serious health condition. Generally speaking, illnesses other than a cold or minor health concern will likely qualify. You may ask John to produce documentation from his medical provider explaining the need for leave. 

John may also be entitled to leave under the ADA. The ADA covers organizations who have employed 15 or more individuals for at least 20 weeks in the current or preceding year. Under the ADA, employers must provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee so long as the employee can still perform the essential functions of the job and the accommodation does not result in an undue hardship to the employer. 

To determine whether John’s illness qualifies as a disability, you may require that he submit medical documentation. If John qualifies as disabled, the ADA requires both parties to engage in a dialogue to determine what, if any, reasonable accommodations could be made for John. One accommodation that should be considered is medical leave. Medical leave may be proper if it does not result in undue hardship to your business, as defined under the ADA. 

Neither the FMLA nor the ADA require your business to pay John while he is on leave. You may, however, require him to substitute any paid accrued time off for the leave. For example, if John has accrued two weeks of vacation and qualifies for 10 weeks of FMLA and/or ADA leave, you may require that he substitute his vacation for the first two weeks of his leave. 

The bottom line for employers subject to these laws is that whether an employee is entitled to medical leave under the FMLA and/or the ADA is dependent on a variety of factors and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Ali Geiger can be reached at

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton, Professional Association. We invite your questions of business law. Questions and ideas for future columns should be addressed to: McLane Middleton, 900 Elm Street, Manchester, NH 03101 or emailed to Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.