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Severe but short-term conditions can qualify for ADA protection

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

When a data support clerk was diagnosed with depression, she applied for and received 12 weeks' leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Then she requested an additional three-month leave, supported by a letter from her physician stating that she would be able to return to work in three to six months. The employer denied the request and terminated her employment.

The district court refused to throw out her case. On the contrary, it ruled that "an impairment does not necessarily have to be permanent to rise to the level of a [protected] disability." It said "severe" conditions may be disabilities if they are "long-term, or potentially long-term, in that their duration is indefinite and unknowable or is expected to last several months."

Although regular attendance is usually an essential function of the job, it must be considered in light of the employer's leave policy. In this case, other employees received extended leave.

In addition, a number of courts have recognized that a leave of absence for medical treatment may be considered a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act when a favorable prognosis is indicated in the case. (Shannon v. City of Philadelphia, No. 98-5277, E.D. Pa., 1999)

Advice: This case illustrates the fine line between what is and what is not a disability under the ADA. A temporary impairment or a condition that prevents an employee from regularly attending his or her job is usually not covered by the ADA. Although it could be said that both conditions were present here, the court found that ADA coverage was possible in light of the circumstances. Take into account a physician's prognosis, including his recommendation of when an employee can return to work, and apply your leave policy consistently. Moreover, remember that "reasonable accommodation" is a continuing duty, not exhausted by one effort.

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