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Employers Not Required to Grant Indefinite Leave under the ADA

A District Court in Missouri found an employer is not required to grant an employee indefinite leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA).  Deciphering the ADA and its reasonable accommodation requirements can be tricky and cause employers much angst.  However, this case gives employers a little peace of mind, knowing they may not have to grant such a request. 

 A substance abuse counselor working for a nonprofit company went on FMLA leave to recover from knee surgery in 2003.  He took FMLA leave again in September 2008, for knee pain.  He exhausted his FMLA leave in the middle of December.  The employee submitted a doctor’s note stating he would need leave for a longer period of time. 

When his leave was exhausted, he failed to give a return to work date or a fitness for duty certificate.  Instead, he asked that the employer make a reasonable accommodation – hire a substitute counselor and allow him to take an indefinite leave of absence until he was fully recovered.  The employer terminated his employment while he was still on leave, claiming this accommodation created an undue hardship. 

The employee sued under the ADA.  The court found his request was not a reasonable accommodation and the employer was justified in terminating him.  Under the ADA, an employee has to be able to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.  The Court found the employee was unable to perform one of his essential job functions – coming to work regularly and on time.  Often, an accommodation allows the employee to perform the job without pain or with greater ease.  However, here, the accommodation request of an indefinite leave did not enable him to work.  More importantly, its indefinite tenure was unreasonable.

Employers should always take great stride to consider an employee’s request for accommodations; remembering that such consideration should be an interactive process between the employee and the company.  With the new amendments to the ADA, it is likely there will be increased accommodation requests.  Employers should consult with counsel or their Human Resources staff when evaluating such requests.  Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on the ADA, as well as other civil rights issues and employment laws in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.