A vexing problem for employers is the period of time it must allow for leave. A very recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit demonstrates that courts and administrative agencies continue to disagree regarding an employer’s obligation to provide extended leave beyond that mandated by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, No. 15-3754 (7th Cir. Sept. 20, 2017) (Sykes, J.).
The plaintiff, a production employee, went out on FMLA leave because of back pain. On the last day of his leave, he underwent back surgery and requested three more months of leave. The employer denied the request and terminated employment. The employee was invited to reapply when he was medically cleared to resume work. When the employee recovered, he sued the employer under the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claiming the employer had failed to reasonably accommodate his disability by granting him the extended leave to recover from back surgery.
The Seventh Circuit ruled that requiring that the employer provide multi-month leave beyond the period mandated by FMLA was not a reasonable accommodation and that the employer had no obligation to accommodate a request for such lengthy additional leave. Accordingly, the employee’s ADA claim was dismissed, though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had urged the court to impose a requirement that the employer provide extended leave.
For employers, dealing with requests for leave beyond FMLA leave should entail a careful consideration of the anticipated duration and the employer’s ability to extend the leave without undue hardship to its operations. Although this particular case ended favorably for the employer who refused to grant three months of additional leave, a one-size fits all approach is not optimal when dealing with long-term leave issues. For more information on this issue or other employment law matters important to your organization, contact PLDO Principal and employment law attorney and litigator, William E. O’Gara at 401-824-5100 or email [email protected]. We welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.