Skip to content
Home » HR Industry Articles » Understanding FMLA and ADA Retaliation Claims

Understanding FMLA and ADA Retaliation Claims

    Employers today face complex legal challenges in managing their workforce. Two significant laws, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), provide essential protections to employees. However, when employers don’t adhere to these laws or retaliate against employees who exercise their rights under them, they can face severe legal consequences. In this article, we will explore what employers need to know about FMLA and ADA retaliation claims to ensure compliance and minimize the risk of legal action.

    The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

    The FMLA is a federal law that grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave annually for specific family and medical reasons. This law aims to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families dealing with serious health conditions or certain life events. However, it’s crucial for employers to understand that interfering with or retaliating against employees for asserting their FMLA rights is illegal.

    Eligibility for FMLA Leave

    Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they meet specific criteria, which include:

    • Working for a covered employer (public agencies, schools, and private employers with 50 or more employees within 75 miles).
    • Having worked for the employer for at least 12 months.
    • Having worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months.
    • Experiencing a qualifying event, such as a serious health condition, childbirth, adoption, or caring for a family member with a serious health condition.

    Interference with FMLA Rights

    Interfering with an employee’s FMLA rights refers to any action taken by the employer that denies or obstructs an eligible employee’s ability to take FMLA leave or other benefits provided by the law. This includes:

    • Discouraging employees from taking FMLA leave.
    • Failing to inform employees about their FMLA rights.
    • Refusing to grant FMLA leave when an employee is eligible.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

    The ADA is another crucial federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in various aspects of employment, including recruitment, hiring, promotion, and accommodation. Employers must understand that retaliation against employees who assert their rights under the ADA is unlawful.

    Understanding ADA Retaliation

    ADA retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse actions against employees for exercising their rights under the ADA. Such adverse actions can include:

    • Termination or demotion.
    • Harassment.
    • Negative changes in job responsibilities or work conditions.

    What Constitutes a Disability Under the ADA?

    It’s important to understand how the ADA defines a disability. An individual is considered to have a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, and caring for oneself.

    Retaliation Claims Under FMLA and ADA

    Recognizing Retaliation Claims

    Employees who believe they have faced retaliation for asserting their FMLA or ADA rights can file a complaint with the appropriate federal agency, such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Employers must be aware of the signs that may indicate retaliation, which can include:

    • Sudden and unexplained negative changes in the employee’s working conditions.
    • Increased scrutiny or criticism of the employee’s performance.
    • Isolation or exclusion from workplace activities.
    • Firing or demotion following the exercise of FMLA or ADA rights.

    Legal Consequences of Retaliation

    Retaliating against employees who exercise their FMLA or ADA rights can lead to serious legal consequences for employers. Such consequences may include:

    • Financial penalties.
    • Reinstating the employee to their previous position.
    • Compensation for lost wages and benefits.
    • Attorney’s fees and court costs.

    Minimizing the Risk of FMLA and ADA Retaliation Claims

    Preventing FMLA and ADA retaliation claims is not only ethically important but also beneficial for employers, as it helps maintain a positive workplace culture and avoid costly legal disputes. Here are some strategies to minimize the risk of retaliation claims:

    Create a Clear FMLA and ADA Policy

    Establish a well-defined FMLA and ADA policy that outlines employees’ rights, responsibilities, and procedures for requesting leave or accommodations. Ensure that all employees have access to this policy.

    Educate Your Workforce

    Train your employees and managers on FMLA and ADA compliance, including recognizing and preventing retaliation. Regular training can help create a culture of understanding and compliance.

    Promptly Address Complaints

    If an employee reports a concern related to FMLA or ADA rights, investigate and address it promptly. Encourage open communication and resolve issues before they escalate.

    Maintain Accurate Documentation

    Keep detailed records of all interactions and decisions related to FMLA and ADA requests or accommodations. This documentation can be crucial in defending against retaliation claims.

    Consult Legal Counsel

    Engage with legal counsel or HR professionals experienced in FMLA and ADA compliance to ensure you are following the law correctly and to help address any complex situations that may arise.

    Engage in the Interactive Process

    Under the ADA, employers must engage in an interactive process with employees requesting accommodations to find reasonable solutions. Be responsive to employee requests and engage in good-faith discussions.


    FMLA and ADA retaliation claims can be costly, damaging to a company’s reputation, and legally problematic. Employers must be well-versed in the provisions of these laws and ensure compliance in all aspects of their workforce management. By creating clear policies, educating the workforce, and promptly addressing complaints, employers can minimize the risk of retaliation claims, fostering a more inclusive and compliant work environment. Understanding the legal consequences of retaliation and taking proactive measures can help organizations avoid legal disputes and maintain a positive workplace culture.

    Employers must remember that protecting their employees’ rights under the FMLA and ADA is not only legally required but also promotes a fair and equitable workplace for all. Compliance with these laws is an essential aspect of any responsible and successful organization.

    Disclaimer: This article provides general guidance and information. HR managers should consult with legal experts to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws when implementing these strategies.