Tuesday, October 31, 2017

7th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals Rules ADA does not Require "Extended" Leave - But 9th Circuit Still Does

Extended Leave and the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities unless the employer can demonstrate that an accommodation would cause undue hardship. The EEOC has argued that extended leave can be a reasonable accommodation and has brought suit where employers have a policy of automatically terminating employees after a specified period of leave. The EEOC also identifies leave as a potential accommodation in its regulations and enforcement guidance. This reasonable accommodation under the ADA, in the EEOC’s view, is in addition to an employee’s right to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft

Our Legislative Alert covers a recent decision out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit which disagreed with the EEOC’s position. In Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Seventh Circuit ruled that extended leave is not required under the ADA. The Court reasoned that the ADA was a statute that prevented discrimination and not one that mandated leave like the FMLA. The Court concluded that an ADA reasonable accommodation “is one that allows the disabled employee to ‘perform the essential functions of the employment position’” and that “not working is not a means” to that end. Therefore, in the Seventh Circuit’s view, a two to three month period of leave is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The Court, however, noted that briefer or intermittent periods of leave, such as days or weeks, could be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA in some circumstances.


The Seventh Circuit’s decision only affects employers in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Employers subject to the ADA in other states should be aware that other federal court decisions may apply to them. For example, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the First and Ninth Circuits have issued decisions holding that multi-month leave periods were reasonable accommodations under the ADA

As mentioned, the EEOC’s position is that extended leave can be a reasonable accommodation. Employers outside of the Seventh Circuit that are subject to the ADA should review federal court decisions regarding reasonable accommodations that apply in their states and confer with their legal counsel especially if they automatically terminate employees after a specified period of leave.

Our legislative alert provides an overview, action steps and considerations for employers as well as the background of Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft.