Monday, July 24, 2017

ADA Guidance For Employers - 12 Month Leave Request Unreasonable, Even 2 Months May Be Unreasonable

... For example, the 1st Circuit cited a case in which a court ruled that an employee’s request for an extension of medical leave of 4 to 6 months was unreasonable. In another decision, the 7th Circuit suggested that even a 2-month medical leave may not be required by the ADA because the “inability to work for a multimonth period removes a person from the class protected by the ADA.” 
The 1st Circuit cited its “newest judicial superior,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, in a 10th Circuit opinion. In the case, Gorsuch captured the dilemma lengthy leave requests pose for employers:
By her own admission, [the employee] couldn’t work at any point or in any manner for a period spanning more than six months. It perhaps goes without saying that an employee who isn’t capable of working for so long isn’t an employee capable of performing a job’s essential functions—and that requiring an employer to keep a job open for so long doesn’t qualify as a reasonable accommodation. After all, reasonable accommodations—typically things like adding ramps and allowing more flexible working hours—are all about enabling employees to work, not to not work. 
. . . It’s difficult to conceive how an employee’s absence for six months—an absence in which she could not work from home, part-time, or in any way in any place—could be consistent with discharging the essential functions of most any job in the national economy today. Even if it were, it is difficult to conceive when requiring so much latitude from an employer might qualify as a reasonable accommodation.
The 1st Circuit agreed that complying with a request for a lengthy period of leave imposes obvious burdens on an employer, not the least of which is somehow covering the employee’s job responsibilities during her extended leave. In this case, Pam did not show that her requested accommodation was facially practicable, and therefore, dismissal of her failure-to-accommodate claim was appropriate. 
Significantly, the 1st Circuit decided that because Pam failed to shoulder her burden of identifying a reasonable accommodation, there was no need to consider whether a 12-month extension would have imposed an undue hardship on AstraZeneca. 
Some Relief for Employers 
The takeaway from this case is that an employer may not be required to grant an employee’s request for an extended, multimonth medical leave of absence under the ADA, particularly if there is evidence that the employee will not be medically able to return to work in the near future. 
Although there is not a black-and-white line, employees’ requests for extensions of leave of more than 4 months have been found to be unreasonable and may be denied based on case law. Each request for leave under the ADA must be analyzed based on the individual facts. In complex cases, the analysis ideally will include employment counsel. 
Also, it is important to remember that employees may be entitled to medical leave under other federal and state laws, including the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).