The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and short-term disability often work hand in hand. FMLA allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period due to specific medical reasons. The employee is not paid for this time unless accrued paid time off is used, such as sick or vacation pay. Short-term disability, on the other hand, pays a percentage of your regular salary while you are out. Typically it pays around 60 percent of your wages. FMLA and Short-term disability usually run concurrently. After the first 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period, the employee is no longer covered by FMLA.


According to the U.S. Dept of Labor, to be subject to FMLA guidelines, your employer must have 50 or more employees for at least 20 work weeks in the previous year. You must be employed for one year and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months to qualify. You are only eligible for short-term disability coverage if your employer chooses to offer it. Some employers offer short-term disability as an employer paid benefit, and some require the employee to elect the coverage and pay part of the premium. Other employers do not offer the coverage at all. If offered, there is usually a probationary period before coverage becomes active. Check with your employer to see if and when short-term disability is available to you.

Length of Coverage

FMLA protects your job for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period. Once that time expires, your position is no longer protected unless your employer offers short-term disability. Short-term disability can last up to 12 months, depending on what is written in the plan documents. Typically, any medical leave beyond 12 months is considered long-term disability. Again, it is at your employer’s discretion if this coverage is offered.

Paid Time Off

FMLA is not paid leave unless your employer allows you to use your accrued paid time off. The use of paid time is up to the individual employer. Short-term disability will usually pay a percentage of your salary. Short-term disability payments depend entirely on what is written in the plan documents. Plans often require a week off without pay before short-term disability payments begin. Talk to your employer to get the specifics of your short-term disability coverage.

Medical Records

Doctor’s certifications are required for both FMLA and short-term disability. However, most short-term disability plans require more detailed medical information. They can even require copies of your medical records in order to make a decision. Due to the HeaIth Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, your employer will not see any of your private medical records unless you allow them to. Medical documentation is usually sent directly to the short-term disability underwriter, and your privacy is protected by law. Both FMLA and short-term disability plans can periodically request updated medical certifications. The frequency of these requests depends on the amount of time off, and these requests are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Coverage Mandates

FMLA is provided in every state as long as your employer meets the criteria. Short-term disability benefits are only mandated in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. As of June 2014, all other states leave the decision to the individual employer.