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Do Small Businesses Have to Give Time Off for Sick Leave?

August 4, 2015 Americans with Disabilities Act Claims

When the FMLA and the ADA collide, it’s important to know which laws pertain to you

Can you be fired for having cancer?

Hopefully that sounds like a ridiculous question to most people. Unfortunately though, there are plenty of American workers who have been fired or driven off the job after requesting leave to seek treatment for medical conditions.

In the case of small businesses (those with fewer than 50 employees), companies may not be required to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is the federal statute that allows many workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to seek medical treatment for themselves or care for a loved one.

Some companies may refuse leave because an employee doesn’t meet the requirements for the FMLA. For example, an employee isn’t eligible for the FMLA until he or she has been employed by a company for 12 months, among other requirements.

And, of course, there are some companies that would just prefer to avoid the hassle and potential costs involved with employing someone who has health issues.

However, it’s important to remember that the FMLA isn’t the only law that pertains to medical leave. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also offers protection to some workers who have medical issues; this statute applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

In addition, Pennsylvania businesses with four or more employees must comply with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, a statute that offers protection for individuals with qualifying disabilities.

Let’s take a look at one case that’s in the news right now and then discuss what happens when the FMLA and the ADA intersect.

No Leave for Treatment

Joan O’Donnell was regional manager for a chain of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI).

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, O’Donnell requested four to eight weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA so that she could undergo surgery and receive radiation and chemotherapy. The owner of the franchises refused to grant the leave.

O’Donnell began treatment and continued working. However, she was abruptly fired three days before she was scheduled to undergo a mastectomy.

O’Donnell complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Now the agency is suing—but not for FMLA violations. Instead, it’s claiming that because cancer is considered a disability under the ADA, the employer illegally failed to accommodate O’Donnell’s request for time off.

Keep in mind that under the ADA, time off may be considered a reasonable accommodation in some cases. As the EEOC states in its press release about this case: “Granting an employee unpaid leave for needed medical treatment is not only the compassionate thing to do, it is required by federal law unless the employer can show it would pose an undue hardship.”

Contact the Murphy Law Group Now for a Free Consultation

Juggling medical issues and work can be extremely stressful. Many employees find it difficult to ascertain which laws may or may not pertain to their highly specific circumstances. That’s why it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney who is experienced in FMLA and ADA matters if you suspect that you may have been treated unfairly because of a medical condition.

Email us at, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation to find out more about your rights.