Q. One of our employees recently completed 12 weeks ofto care for an ill family member. She has now requested a 30-day leave to undergo chemical dependency treatment for alcohol abuse. Since she has already utilized all of her available leave, are we required to grant this most recent leave request?
A. In determining whether to grant an employee’s request for leave to deal with the employee’s own serious medical condition, a company has to consider not only the leave requirements under the FMLA, but also whether granting a short-term leave is an appropriate, reasonable accommodation under the ADA, and under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).
Although an employer can prohibit an employee from using or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the workplace, alcoholism and chemical dependency are nonetheless likely to be found to be disabilities under the ADA and MHRA.
Both the ADA and the MHRA require employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s known disability unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship. Undue hardship generally focuses on whether the accommodation would be too difficult or expensive to provide in light of the size, financial resources and needs of the employer.
Inconvenience alone doesn’t constitute undue hardship. Absent some unusual or compelling circumstances, most employers will have difficulty showing that a 30-day leave of absence rises to the level of an undue hardship.
Nonetheless, you may want to engage in the interactive process with the employee to see whether there is a less burdensome accommodation that would meet her needs. While an employer is required by law to make a reasonable accommodation to an employee’s known disability, it is also permitted to explore less restrictive or less expensive alternatives for accommodating the employee’s disability.
If you have questions regarding your obligations under the ADA and MHRA, you should consult with legal counsel.