The ADA Does Not Require Businesses to Give Indefinite Leave

Posted by Jeanine Gagliardi on Mon, 03/18/2013 - 04:00

In some circumstances, federal law requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability. It can be difficult for an employer to determine what "reasonable" means. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland recently opined that an indefinite period of medical leave is not a reasonable accommodation. Accordingly, the ADA does not require an employer to grant an employee with a disability an indefinite period of leave.

In the case, an employer declined to grant its employee an indefinite period of leave. The employee, a correctional officer, took medical leave to undergo treatment for breast cancer. The officer used all of her paid sick leave, all of her personal leave, and all leave available to her under the Family and Medical Leave Act. She also used leave that was donated by other employees.

After the officer had been out of work for approximately nine months, her employer placed her on medical leave without pay. As a result, the officer was separated from payroll and would have to go through a reinstatement process in order to return to work. At the time that she was separated from payroll, the officer did not provide the employer with a date on which she would be able to return to work. The officer did eventually go through the reinstatement process and returned to work at a different correctional facility.

The officer sued, claiming that she had been terminated in violation of federal law. The court summarily rejected the officer’s claim. Reasoning that additional leave is a reasonable accommodation only where the leave (1) is for a finite period of time and (2) is reasonably likely to enable the employee to return to work, the court concluded that, under the circumstances, the employer was not required to grant the officer additional leave.

Although determining the reasonableness of a requested accommodation is typically a fact-intensive inquiry that depends on the circumstances of each situation, the case provides some guidance for businesses facing a request for leave.

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