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Seventh Circuit again rules that extended leave is not required under the ADA

Court says time off beyond FMLA protected leave is not a reasonable accommodation

Posted November 9, 2017

Just a couple months ago, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sent a shock wave through the employee leave community when it ruled that extended leave, even after exhausting 12 weeks of FMLA leave, is not a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Like back-to-back home runs in the World Series, the court ruled again that employers need not provide such extended leave.

Case in point

An employee was diagnosed with breast cancer. After taking FMLA leave for 12 weeks, she could not provide a return-to-work date. The company provided an additional four weeks of leave, but the employee still could not return to work after that. Therefore, the employee was terminated.

The employee sued, arguing that the employer, the termination, and the failure to provide the extended leave violated the ADA.

The Circuit Court referred back to their previous decision (Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc.), indicating that, “[a]n employee who needs long-term medical leave cannot work and thus is not a ‘qualified individual’ under the ADA.” Therefore, the employee is removed from the protected class under the ADA.

To be protected by the ADA, an individual must be qualified for the position; he or she must have the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position. If the employee is not able to work, he or she cannot perform the job.

The court did not focus on the fact that the employee could not provide a return-to-work date. Other courts have held that providing unlimited leave has never been seen as reasonable. Instead, the court indicated that, because the employee requested multiple months of leave, she was not qualified for the position.

One of the three judges, while consenting, did indicate that “…the ADA, by its terms, is meant to be flexible and to require individualized assessments of both the reasonableness of an employee’s requested accommodation, and the burden on employers.” She pointed out that it seems illogical that the ADA “could require an employer to accommodate an employee…who requires one week leaves, several times a year, every year, but can never require an employer to accommodate an employee who needs a one-time leave of four or five months to recuperate” from an injury or illness.

The Court rulings are now law, at least for those states in the Seventh Circuit: Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. If you have employees in other locations, however, you will still need to tread more carefully.

Golden v. Indianapolis Housing Agency, No. 17-1359, October 15, 2017.

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