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Coronavirus & Employment: Novel Questions for FMLA and ADA

On Behalf of | Mar 26, 2020 | Firm News

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. With this declaration, novel questions of employment law have been brought to the forefront. Many employers are wondering what actions are legal during this pandemic, whereas many employees are wondering whether their time-off is covered under any federal or state law.

This blog will explain how the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and American with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The FMLA provides protections for job-protected leave for up to twelve (12) weeks for an employee’s serious medical condition or a serious medical condition of an employee’s covered family member.

But what happens if an employee needs to care for a family who is sick as a result of COVID-19? A covered employer must grant FMLA protection to employees regardless of whether they are caring for a family member who is sick as a result of COVID-19. An employer cannot treat an illness resulting from COVID-19 any different than a serious health crisis or significant medical condition already covered under the FMLA.

Although the FMLA generally requires written proof of a medical condition, this requirement is relaxed in COVID-19 cases. Given COVID-19 is a pandemic and a serious threat to health, employers should allow for leave and then have employees provide documentation as soon as they can.


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transposition, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services. Title 1 of the ADA creates an equal playing field and allows people with disabilities to access the same employment benefits as people without disabilities.

The ADA generally prohibits certain medical inquiries and examinations in standard conditions. However, a pandemic relaxes these rules. In fact, during this COVID-19 pandemic, employers can inquire into possible disabilities or mandate medical exams. An employer can make these inquires even if the employee is asymptomatic. Employers are allowed to ask employees about their disabilities to determine whether employees are at a higher risk if the pandemic reaches a level that creates a direct threat to individuals who contract the disease.

Additional Resources

If you live in Rhode Island and have been impacted by COVID-19, please refer to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training’s Workplace Fact Sheet at http://www.dlt.state.ri.us/pdfs/COVID-19%20Workplace%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.

To learn more about your particular situation, reach out via email to me at [email protected].