With the existence of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (both of which predate FMLA), why bother with a family medical leave act at all? While there is some overlap between the three, each plays a different role.
ADA focuses on people who have disabilities that affect their ability to perform activities that are regarded as part of normal everyday life. A person who cannot walk or see is covered under ADA. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis or race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. A company cannot provide leave to one group and not another.
Why FMLA? The most important difference between it and ADA and Title VII is probably that it has a more direct effect on an employee’s family. Neither ADA nor Title VII provide guarantees to individuals who wish to take leave to look after a sick child or spouse. Nor do they provide for full medical insurance coverage the way FMLA does. Under ADA, an employee who chooses to work part-time because of a disability is only entitled to whatever insurance is provided to other part-timers. Under Title VII, an employer cannot provide one employee with insurance and another with none solely on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or nationality. But there is no provision guaranteeing insurance.
Under FMLA, employers must maintain the employee’s insurance at its current level (that includes covering a spouse and children who are on the plan), so long as the employee keeps making his or her regular contribution (if any) into the policy.