Courts Continue To Wrestle With Whether Long-Term Leave Can Be A Reasonable Accommodation Under The ADA

Author:Mr John Monroe and Kristina Griffin
Profession:Ford & Harrison LLP
 
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Executive Summary: When an employee seeks leave as an accommodation for a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the decision regarding whether to grant or deny the request can be challenging. Employers must look closely at the particular circumstances of every case in order to determine whether the amount of leave requested can be provided to the employee without causing undue hardship to the employer's business. The fact-intensive nature of this decision makes predicting the length of leave that an employer must provide to an employee difficult, and employers do not know whether their decision will later be second-guessed by a court. Notably, however, a recent decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals alleviates this challenge for employers in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. In Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 18197 (7th Cir. Wis. Sept. 20, 2017), the court adopted a bright-line rule instead of using the typical fact-intensive analysis to evaluate whether a leave request constitutes a reasonable accommodation. The Severson court held that long-term leave is never required as an accommodation because an employee who needs extended leave is not a "qualified individual" under the ADA.

Background

Employers are familiar with the 12-weeks of job-protected leave to which an employee is entitled for his or her own serious health condition under the FMLA. However, what is required when employees inform their employer that they cannot return to work on the day that their FMLA leave expires is less clear.

Employers must ordinarily provide some additional leave if the employee provides documentation that he or she will be able to return to work on a specific future date that is only a few weeks - or even a few months or longer - away, unless the additional time requested causes the employer an undue hardship. Since an employer's obligation to provide leave is not defined, any decision to deny or continue to provide leave should be made cautiously.

A Recent Decision Takes a Different Approach

The recent decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Severson eliminated this dilemma for some employers by holding that employees who need extended leave are not "qualified individuals" under the ADA.

As defined under the ADA, a "qualified individual" is any person "who, with or without [a] reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions" of his or her position. 42 U.S.C.S. §...

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