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FMLA and ADA Compliance: Don’t put the Cart before the Horse

A recent federal District Court case out of Utah should remind employers of the importance of ADA and FMLA compliance and the process associated with a legal denial of accommodation.  

In Molina v. Wells Fargo Bank, Molina, a Wells Fargo employee, sought time off because she felt the stress of the job was aggravating her epilepsy. Wells Fargo’s Human Resource Department said her epilepsy was not a disability and she did not qualify for leave under FMLA.  After appealing HR’s decision and being denied her request once more, Molina resigned and sued Wells Fargo for FMLA interference and disability discrimination under the ADA.

 In defending its actions, Wells Fargo argued  Molina did not explain her request for accommodation was medically necessary. The court held that claiming an accommodation is medically necessary is not required by the ADA, rather, a person must only show it was a reasonable request. The court criticized Wells Fargo for not taking her request into consideration, despite knowing of her condition and risk for seizures.

 Wells Fargo further argued the employee’s belief that she needed time off was without medical certification and therefore was insufficient to state a claim under the FMLA. The court disagreed, concluding Molina was not required to submit medical documentation at the time the request was denied by the HR department. Rather, Molina would have been required to provide medical proof once she was properly notified of her rights under FMLA by her employer and a request for medical certification was made. Wells Fargo wrongfully never let her get to this stage before denying her request outright.

Employers must be mindful when considering an employee’s requests under the ADA and FMLA.  For the most part, it wasn’t what Wells Fargo did here that caused the company problems, but rather how the company did it.  Employers are well within their rights to ask for medical documentation under both the ADA and the FMLA, however, it must be done at the proper time and place.  There is a legal process required by both Acts, one that requires a good faith interactive process.  An outright, straight up denial is never a good idea.  Follow the steps, take your time, step lightly, and of course, remember Molina.

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on the FMLA, 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 203.454.0560.