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When reasonable accommodation is time off, it’s OK to count it as FMLA leave

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees whose disabilities require reasonable accommodations in the form of breaks or a modified schedule don’t get to save their FMLA leave for later use. Employers are free to subtract the time off from any FMLA hours available.

Recent case: Sharon Murray worked for AT&T Mobility at a call center. To handle the high volume of calls, the center had a strict attendance policy. Murray has a condition called supraventricular tachycardia that causes her heart to race suddenly and makes it hard to concentrate.

Murray took time off for treatment and returned to work with a reduced schedule as a reasonable accommodation. AT&T docked from her FMLA leave the time she didn’t work, and she quickly ran out of FMLA leave.

Eventually, when her absences exceeded those allowed under the modified schedule, AT&T discharged her.

Murray sued, arguing that the time she took off as a reasonable accommodation shouldn’t have counted toward her FMLA leave.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It said employers are free to subtract reasonable-accommodation time off from available FMLA leave as long as they notify the employee that’s what they’re doing. (Murray v. AT&T Mobility, No. 09-3334, 7th Cir., 2010)

Final note: AT&T allowed Murray to continue working the modified schedule as an accommodation, but wouldn’t tolerate any additional absences. Since she didn’t have more time available after using up her FMLA leave, she was terminated for missing more work.

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