In Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. (September 2017), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employees are not entitled to extensive or open-ended periods of medical leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

In Severson, the plaintiff took a full 12 weeks of FMLA leave for chronic back pain, underwent back surgery on the last day of his FMLA leave, and then requested several additional months of leave to recover from the surgery.  The employer denied the request and terminated the employee, but offered to rehire him after he recovered from surgery.  The employee then sued the employer for failure to provide reasonable accommodations (i.e., extended leave) under the ADA. 
The appeals court noted that while a leave of absence to deal with a medical condition could be a suitable ADA accommodation in certain circumstances, "a medical leave spanning multiple months does not permit the employee to perform the essential functions of his job.  To the contrary, the inability to work for a multi-month period removes a person from the class protected by the ADA." 
Do you have employees on extended ADA leave?  If yes, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is the ADA leave for an indefinite length of time (no end date)?
  • Has the ADA leave been extended multiple times?
  • Has the employee exhausted all PTO, FMLA, and state-specific leave entitlements?
  • Has the treating medical provider or employee indicated the employee has a permanent disability that will prevent the employee from working?
  • Has the employee informed you that he or she has applied for total disability?
  • Has the employee ignored your attempts to contact him or her?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, it may be the right time to move forward with termination.  Terminating an employee on ADA leave requires a carefully worded letter regarding the (1) future termination date if no return to work, (2) reason for termination, and (3) eligibility for rehire when the employee is ready and able.
Do you have employees on intermittent ADA leave who may be abusing the leave and causing an unfair burden on the company and the employee's coworkers? If yes, it may be time to consult with legal counsel on the appropriate next steps.
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