Communicating with your employer about your absence from work

What Is Family Medical Leave Act?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 work weeks per year of job protected leave, , with continuation of group health insurance coverage, under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. You can find more information at this link:

State Laws on FMLA

The federal FMLA is not the only law that protects employees who need time off for personal or medical reasons. In some cases, there are also state laws which may also provide for employees to take leave of absence for these reasons. Some states have family and medical leave laws that apply to smaller employers who are not covered by the FMLA. Visit the Department of Labor Web site for more information on FMLA and other applicable laws in the state in which you reside.


FMLA and Short-term Disability

Employees may quickly use up their paid sick days if they suffer an illness or injury. Short-term disability plans are intended to provide you with a replacement income source when you have used up your paid time off for medical reasons. Some employers and government agencies fund these plans for employees, but you can also buy your own disability insurance if you are not covered by a group plan. Short-term disability plans are optional, but the FMLA applies to employees in all 50 states. Employees can be on short-term disability and still be protected under FMLA concurrently.

How do you handle communications with your employer when you need time off from work under FMLA or short term-disability?

If you think you might be eligible for FMLA or/and short-term disability, a good first step is to contact your Human Resources department, in order to find out how to initiate the appropriate process and what paperwork you might need to fill out.

How to Communicate with Human Resources

If you work for a large company, e-mail may be the best way to inform HR that you will need to take leave under FMLA, and to find out what paperwork you need to fill out. If you work for a smaller company, it may be as easy as walking down the hall and asking someone in the department how to begin the process of taking leave under FMLA. Either way, documentation of the initial discussion and/or correspondence is important.

How to Communicate with Your Supervisor

It is best to communicate with your supervisor directly, in person or in writing, depending on your relationship and your supervisor’s availability. You are not obligated to give personal details about your medical condition, or other reasons for the request (such as the condition of a family member). You only need to provide information indicating that your leave is due to an FMLA-protected condition. For example, you need to state that you have surgery scheduled and that your doctor’s orders are to stay home for a week after the surgery.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It provides similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Unlike the Civil Rights Act, the ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and requires accessibility requirements on public accommodations.

What are you obligated to share?

You do not have to tell your employer your diagnosis, or any personal details, but you do need to provide information indicating that your leave is due to an FMLA-protected condition (for example, adoption of a child).

Your employer must notify you if you are eligible for FMLA leave within five business days of your first leave request.


Ciaran, J. (2015). FMLA vs. Short Term Disability. Retrieved from