Earlier this week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a publication related to the rights of individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when requesting leave from work as a reasonable accommodation. While the ADA clearly requires employers provide qualified disabled individuals with a “reasonable accommodation” to permit the individual to perform the essential functions of the job, the entitlement to leave as such an accommodation has been a focus of the EEOC and litigation in recent years. The EEOC noted in its press release, that “[d]isability charges filed with the EEOC reached a new high in fiscal year 2015, increasing over 6 percent from the previous year” and that the EEOC has identified a “prevalence of employer policies that deny or unlawfully restrict the use of leave as a reasonable accommodation.” Thus, the publication seeks to provide general information related to assessing requests for leave under the ADA and also provides examples of leave requests and the EEOC’s determination of appropriate action.
Employee requests for leave linked to medical conditions (e.g., stress, depression, etc.) have been on the rise including, for example, requests for telework, breaks, reduced schedules, and extended time off. Given the ADA’s now more expansive definition of disability, these requests must be assessed by employers for compliance with ADA in addition to other various state or federal laws prior to making a determination. Being informed about the ADA requirements is essential in ensuring these requests are handled in an appropriate manor. The required “interactive process” is not a one-size fits all approach and specifically contemplates a review of whether alternative forms of reasonable accommodations may be effective in meeting the employee’s needs. Thus, while an employee may seek leave as an accommodation, the employer may propose other accommodations that may permit the employee to return to work sooner or be more productive while at work.
In addition, while the EEOC still has not provided a bright-line on what length or frequency of leave may become an undue burden, it is worth repeating that when an employee requests “indefinite leave” (i.e., leave without any indication as to when or whether the employee will return) the EEOC has determined that such leave would be an undue burden and, thus, not required to be provided by the ADA.
This publication supplements other available resources available from the EEOC and should be consulted by those responsible for reviewing reasonable accommodation requests and company leave policies. The publication also covers modifications to existing leave policies, maximum leave policies, communication with employees on leave (including when returning to work from leaves covered by FMLA), the “interactive process” in assessing reasonable accommodation requests, and undue hardship considerations.
About the Author:
Marina Blickley focuses on the Government Contracting and Non-Profit industries. She regularly assists clients in all aspects of employment and labor law including employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation/whistleblower, compensation practices, and wage and hour violations. Marina also represents companies in commercial litigation matters concerning contract disputes, restrictive covenants/non-competes, business conspiracy, misappropriation of trade secrets, and computer fraud and theft.