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Consider extended leave as accommodation if disabled employee is likely to return to work

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Before rejecting a disabled employee’s request for additional time off as a reasonable accommodation, consider whether the time would allow the employee to return. If not, you probably won’t have to provide the additional leave.

Recent case: Wayne was a firefighter in Coon Rapids. He developed a heart infection and had to undergo extensive diagnostic work. An exam revealed he had muscular dystrophy, and Wayne’s doctors said he would not be able to keep working as a firefighter. But the same doctors also recommended a second opinion.

Wayne asked the city to allow him to use up all his available time off, including FMLA, sick, vacation and other leave. That way, he would hit retirement age. He claimed allowing this would be a reasonable accommodation.

The city disagreed, reasoning that if Wayne could never return to work, he wasn’t entitled to more time off. Extra time off would not allow him to eventually perform the essential functions of his job—fighting fires. He was terminated.

Wayne then got a second opinion and found out that he did not have muscular dystrophy after all, and could return to work.

He sued, claiming he should have been accommodated with extended leave.

The court disagreed. Since no one, including Wayne, had known his condition was actually tempo­­rary, his lawsuit was dismissed. The fire department acted based on the knowledge it had at the time the accommodation request was made. (Anderson v. City of Coon Rapids, No. 13-3015, DC MN, 2015)

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