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ADA: You may not have to honor employee’s request for gradual return to work

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

It may be a reasonable accommodation to grant additional time off after a disabled employee has used up her FMLA entitlement and other leave. However, if the employee can’t specify a return date and the leave request appears indefinite, you don’t have to agree to more leave.

But what if the disabled employee wants a gradual return to work, easing back in by working part time? That may amount to indefinite leave, too.

Recent case: Keith was an assistant principal and coach at a middle school in Washington County. When his supervisor criticized his administrative skills, Keith went out on FMLA leave for depression.

After Keith used up all his available leave, including his FMLA allotment, his doctors suggested a gradual re­­turn to work. Keith wanted to start by coming in one hour per day and slowly increasing that to four hours per day. After the suggested trial period, his doctors wanted to re-evaluate his condition.

The school district refused, claiming that the proposed schedule was unreasonable and amounted to an indefinite leave. It then terminated Keith, concluding that he could not perform the essential functions of his job as an assistant principal in just one hour per day.

Keith sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The court said Keith’s proposal was unreasonable and agreed with the school district that it amounted to a request for an indefinite leave. It dismissed Keith’s claim and up­­held his firing. (Burcar v. South Wash­­ing­­ton County, No. 12-2188, DC MN, 2014)

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