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Temporary disability leave over? Carefully handle employee’s return to work

by on
in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

An employee who has been on temporary disability leave and whose leave is about to expire may be eligible for reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

A smart employer will try to ease the return process by proposing a solid return date to the employee and inviting him to contact the company with any questions or concerns.

Recent case: Daniel Spak worked for MetLife when he was struck with a series of personal upheavals: His house went into foreclosure, his wife was diagnosed with cancer, his daughter had a serious accident and his son became ill. As a result, Spak was depressed and anxious. In an apparent rash moment, he asked an HR officer to terminate him.

Perhaps sensing that Spak needed help, the HR officer suggested that he might be eligible for some paid, short-term disability leave. He applied and got the benefits.

Then the company found out that Spak was spending his time in his pool, playing basketball, shopping (to the tune of $8,000 per month) with his corporate card and generally seemed just fine. He soon received a letter explaining that he was being denied benefits and had to report back to work on a certain date. The letter said he could call HR to discuss any accommodations or other possible leave options.

Spak never responded, and the company fired him when he didn’t show up on the appointed day.

He sued, alleging failure to accommodate his disability. But the court said the company had done all it was required to do to help Spak. It tossed out his disability claim. (Spak v. MetLife, No. 3-CV-06-152, MD PA, 2008)

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