Medical leave request: Consider ADA & FMLA
A Tennessee employer faces an EEOC lawsuit alleging it unlawfully fired a worker after she asked for leave to deal with her anxiety.
The case highlights an HR imperative: When dealing with an employee who has medical problems, you may need to consider the ADA in addition to the FMLA.
According to the EEOC, the employer replied to the employee’s leave request by telling her she did not qualify for the FMLA because she had only been on the job for four months. Then it told her that within 36 hours, she had to obtain a note from her doctor documenting her anxiety. When she missed that deadline, the company fired her.
The woman’s EEOC complaint accuses the company of failing to explore her request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
Following an investigation, the EEOC unsuccessfully tried to get the parties to resolve their differences through its conciliation process.
That’s when the EEOC filed a lawsuit. In addition to back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the fired worker, the suit seeks injunctive relief prohibiting the employer from discriminating against employees based on their disabilities in the future.
What the ADA requires
Employers that fail to look beyond FMLA requirements can easily run afoul of the ADA. The employer was correct in this case that the employee didn’t qualify for FMLA leave because of her short time on the job. However, it was obligated to address her ADA rights, which include an exploration of possible reasonable accommodations.
The ADA reasonable accommodation process requires an interactive dialog between the employer and employee, discussing the employee’s condition, needs and limits the employer deems reasonable. Employers can ask for medical certification of the employee’s need for leave, but must make the request in good faith. In this case, the EEOC considered the employer’s 36-hour deadline a bad-faith excuse to fire the employee.