The Bermuda Triangle of Labor Laws (ADA-FMLA-Workers Compensation)

The Bermuda Triangle is an area in the Atlantic Ocean in which an unusually high number of ships and planes have disappeared. Because the interplay of three major employment laws -- the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Workers’ Compensation – is so complicated and fraught with problems, many HR professionals often refer to these three laws as the Bermuda Triangle of Employment Law. Each of these laws/regulations covers employee leave in some way and, often, two or all three may apply to the same situation. If employers aren’t careful, they may find themselves getting “shipwrecked” or “sunk” with some stiff penalties and legal consequences.


Employers covered by these regulations and protections provided to employees:



  • Covers most employers with 50 or more employees
  • Provides job protections for employees who have met a minimum qualifying number of work months and hours who work for a covered employer.
  • The FMLA sets minimum leave standards for employees for:
    • The birth and care of the newborn child and the placement of adoption or foster care of a child
    • An employee medical leave when they are unable to work due to their own serious health condition
    • The care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition


  • Covers most employers with 15 or more employees
  • The ADA prohibits discrimination against applicants and employees who are “qualified individuals with a disability”.   The ADA compels employers to make a reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship.


  • Covers Almost all employers
  • Workers’ Compensation laws provide for payment of compensation and rehabilitation to employees for workplace injuries, while also minimizing employer liability.


Summary overview of how of these regulations vary in their requirements:


Length of protected leave:

FMLA - Provides for up to 12 weeks in the 12-month period as defined by the employer

ADA - Does not have a specific limit for the amount of leave that would be provided as a reasonable accommodation as long as it does not create an undue hardship on the employer.

Workers’ Compensation - Does not specify an amount of leave for an injured worker

Permissible medical documentation:

FMLA - Should not exceed what is requested in the Dept. of Labor (DOL) Medical Certification Form.

ADA – Only medical inquiries or information regarding an employee’s disability that are job-related and necessary to determine the employee’s ability to perform their job and if an accommodation is needed.

Workers’ Compensation – Medical information that pertains to the employee’s on-the-job injury.

Required/permitted restricted/light duty:

FMLA – Does not require

ADA – Required to be offered if it is a reasonable accommodation that does not create undue hardship on employer.

Workers’ Compensation – Although not required, in most cases would be recommended to be offered, if an option, as it may eliminate the employee’s entitlement to the wage replacement benefit.

Permitted fitness-to-return-to-work certification:

FMLA – If consistently required of other employees in similar positions that have been on a similar type of leave of absence.

ADA – If it is job-related and necessary to determine whether the employee can safely perform essential functions of their job.

Workers’ Compensation – It can be and is typically required.

Benefits required to still be provided while on leave:

FMLA – Health coverage must be continued at same level as prior to the leave. Other benefits can be determined by the employer's established policy.

ADA – No specific requirements but cannot discriminate and must provide same benefits as those provided to employees on non-ADA leave of absence, unless run concurrently with FMLA leave.

Workers’ Compensation – Not required to be continued unless run concurrently with FMLA leave.

Reinstatement requirements:

FMLA – Required reinstatement to the same or an equivalent job. NO undue hardship exception.

ADA – Required reinstatement to same job unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer.

Workers’ Compensation – No reinstatement rights under most state laws, except retaliatory discharges would be prohibited.



In addition to the varying requirements for compliance with each of these regulations, most circumstances involving any one of the regulations will have nuanced details that should be incorporated into any decisions that will impact an employee. When employers find themselves navigating the treacherous waters of the Bermuda Triangle of Labor Laws, they should always seek expert guidance.


The Aliniti HR Blog - The Bermuda Triangle of Labor Laws (ADA-FMLA-Workers Compensation is intended as an employer reference guide only and not intended to serve as legal advice, therefore any legal questions should be directed to legal counsel.

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