ADA: Extended leave not always reasonable

For several years, the EEOC and federal courts considering ADA cases have held that it can be a reasonable accommodation to grant workers additional time off if they have exhausted all other available leave.

The reasoning: As long as the worker has a tentative return date and isn’t asking for indefinite extended leave, the employer should at least entertain allowing the additional time off.

Thus, draconian workplace rules that call for automatically firing workers who run out of leave have consistently been held to violate the ADA.

That may be changing, at least for employers in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, the states covered by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. And if the rationale behind two recent decisions gains traction, other states might be affected as well.

Recent case No. 1: In the first case, Raymond worked for a fabricator of retail display fixtures, a physically demanding job. He took 12 weeks of FMLA leave to deal with serious back pain.

On the last day of his leave, he had back surgery and missed several more months. He asked for additional unpaid leave since he had exhausted his FMLA leave. The employer turned down Raymond’s request.

That’s when he decided to file a lawsuit, claiming he should have been reasonably accommodated with additional time off.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his claim, stating, “ADA is an antidiscrimination statute, not a medical-leave entitlement.”

The appeals court concluded that someone who cannot work is not a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA because the requested accommodation does not allow him to work. It added that a “multimonth leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation” under the ADA. (Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, 7th Cir., 2017)

Recent case No. 2: The second case applied that reasoning to a woman, Marytza, who developed breast cancer and needed more time off than she had available under the FMLA.

Marytza sued when her employer turned down her leave request. The 7th Circuit dismissed her lawsuit, too. (Golden v. Indianapolis Housing Agency, 7th Cir., 2017)