Three years ago, Maria Alves had a baby boy.  Alves' employer, Boston University, fired her when she didn't return from maternity leave. 
Boston University now owes Alves $144,000.00 in compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress, plus interest, attorney's fees, and costs. 
After her baby was born, Alves experienced anxiety and depression. Alves asked Boston University (BU) for an extension of her maternity leave, which was granted.  After Alves was officially diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD), she asked BU for a second extension to give her more timeto recover.  The second extension request did not provide a specific date for her returnto work.  Alves was denied the second extension and BU terminated her employment for failure to return from leave.    
BU's termination decision may seem reasonablesince employers don't have to hold a job forever.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not a leave entitlement statute and Ms. Albes' protected leave time under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was exhausted.
So, why did BU lose the lawsuit?  Because, like other mental health problems, PPD is a covered disability under the federal ADA and related state laws. 

In Alves' case, a 10-person jury ruled that BU violated the law by failing to engage in a documented, robust, interactive dialogue to determine whether additional leave time was a reasonable accommodation under the circumstances.  Instead, BU unilaterally determined enough was enough... without analyzing whether additional time off would actually cause an undue hardship on the university.
So how long is too long when it comes to a leave of absence under the ADA?  The ADA does not require employers to offer leaves of absence, much less unlimited time off.  However, the ADA and its state law counterparts do require employers to analyze whether leave may be a reasonable accommodation.
The critical takeaway is that employers must work with your employees (the interactive process) to attempt tocome to a solution. At some point, enough really is enough; leaves cannot go on forever. However, as BU learned, firing too quickly can result in a lawsuit and a big payout. 
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