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Instead of firing after FMLA and disability leave, consider reasonable accommodations

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Do you automatically terminate employees who aren’t ready to return to work after using up all available FMLA and short-term disability leave? If so, you may be asking for an ADA refusal-to-accommodate lawsuit.

The better approach: Determine if reasonable accommodations might help the employee return to work despite lingering problems.

Recent case: David worked as a maintenance technician, which re­­quired the ability to manipulate hand tools to repair equipment. He injured his right (and dominant) hand away from work in an accident that severed part of his index and middle fingers. He needed several operations, which kept him from working.

The company granted David 12 weeks of FMLA leave, plus almost three more months of short-term disability leave. When that ended, he was terminated because he couldn’t perform his old job. He still lacked the ability to use the tools his job required.

David sued, alleging that although he was disabled, he could have been accommodated in open positions that didn’t require perfect manual dexterity. He pointed out that after he was fired, he could no longer learn about open jobs posted for current employees.

The court said David had a case because the employer never even considered possible accommodations beyond the additional leave it had already granted. Employers must engage in an interactive accommodations process and can’t just automatically terminate employees without at least exploring whether a reasonable accommodation is possible. (Gregor v. Polar Semiconductor, No. 11-3306, DC MN, 2013)

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