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FMLA vs. disability insurance

These protections work together to help you make it through your medical leave.


Fact checked
Short-term and long-term disability both provide you with income if you’re out of work due to a covered disability, but differ based on the amount of income they’ll replace and the length of time they’ll pay out. Having both provides the most protection against losing your ability to bring in money after a disability.

Features of FMLA vs. disability insurance

Both benefits exist to help you when you can’t work, but they often serve very different functions.

FMLADisability insurance
Eligibility requirementsMust have worked 1250 hours in the prior 12 months to be eligibleEligibility requirements vary by employer, but often you will have a work requirement and you won’t be covered for any pre-existing conditions
Amount of compensationNoneTypically 60% to 80% of your paycheck
Amount of covered leaveUp to 12 weeks, which can either be consecutive or used intermittently over a 12-month period

Up to 26 weeks, if caring for an injured service member

Varies, but can range from six weeks to 24 months
Available for family illness?Yes. Your protections extend to leave taken to care for a family member.No. You are only covered for your own disabling illness or injury.

What is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993 to allow eligible employees to take medical leave without losing their health insurance or their position at work.

How does FMLA work?

Because this is a federal law, you automatically have this protection as long as you have worked 12 months for a covered employer. Covered employers generally include any public or private school, any public government agency and any employer with 50 or more employees.

When you need leave, make a request with your HR representative at least 30 days in advance, if you know ahead of time, or as soon as possible, if you don’t. Your health insurance should continue through your leave, as long as you pay your premiums, and when your leave is done, you return either to your position or an equivalent position with equal pay.

What is disability insurance?

Disability insurance can either be provided through your employer or purchased as a standalone policy. It’s designed to cover a portion of your salary if you experience a disabling illness or injury that keeps you from being able to work.

How does disability insurance work?

When you are injured or become ill, you notify your HR representative or insurance company and fill out the paperwork to start your disability leave. You’ll have to meet an elimination or waiting period, typically from two to four weeks, before your benefits start. Once you meet your waiting period, you’re paid a portion of your salary weekly or monthly until your benefit period ends.

How do I compare FMLA and disability insurance?

Because FMLA only provides unpaid leave, your disability insurance is what helps keep you afloat financially while you’re out on leave. But disability only covers your illness and injury. If you’re taking leave to care for a sick family member, your disability insurance won’t cover you.

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Bottom line

FMLA and disability insurance coverage work best when they work together, providing peace of mind so you can focus your efforts on recovering from your illness or injury to return to work. But understanding the details of your coverage before you need medical leave can help you know what to expect when the time comes. And if you don’t have disability insurance through your employer, comparing disability insurance companies can ensure you find the best policy for you.

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