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Insist on medical leave as accommodation if disabled worker can’t return to full duty

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Some disabled employees seem to believe they can get whatever accommodation they want. That’s not true.

In reality, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) gives employers great leeway to choose accommodations that suit their businesses. That can include telling the employee to take medical leave until she is well enough to return.

Recent case: Celeste Sasaki-Hayward had several operations on her back and couldn’t return to full-time work right away. She ordinarily worked a 12-hour shift, but wanted to work four hours per shift instead.

Her employer refused. It said finding someone to cover the remaining eight hours each shift wasn’t possible. Instead, it offered her continued medical leave until she could work at least half her shift.

She sued under FEHA, alleging failure to accommodate.

The court tossed out her case. It reasoned that medical leave was an appropriate accommodation, even if it wasn’t the accommodation Sasaki-Hayward wanted. The employee’s preference doesn’t rule as long as what the employer offers is reasonable. (Sasaki-Hayward v. Regents of the University of California, No. B211391, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2010)

Final note:
The employer did everything right in this case. First, it engaged in an interactive accommodations process designed to yield a reasonable accommodation. Then it offered more time off so she could complete her recovery. When Sasaki-Hayward refused, she was responsible for the breakdown of communications.

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