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Leave of Absence and the ADA

As most of you know, the ADA was amended a couple years ago making it easier for individuals to qualify for protection due to the expanded definition of a disability.  One danger area for employers is dealing with individuals needing a leave of absence or additional leave as it relates to a situation that may be defined as a disability under the ADA.  This can arise after FMLA leave has been used and expires, or for those non-FMLA employers/situations at the end of a standard leave of absence.  It is at this juncture that employers sometimes find themselves in dangerous waters.  What should an employer do at the end of an approved leave of absence (FMLA or otherwise) when the employee isn't quite ready to return to work?  Does the employee have some expected return date that is just a few days or weeks away?  Is the return a bit more uncertain?  How employers resolve this issue can be the difference between smooth exit and an EEOC complaint/lawsuit.  While just how much leave is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA can be unclear, it is clear that accommodating an indefinite or uncertain return to work date is not required.    

In addition to having sometimes murky factual information, some employers have a leave policy with an automatic employment termination provision that triggers at a certain point.  For example, if an employee has been on leave for six months, his or her employment is automatically terminated.  The EEOC is focusing some negative attention on this type of leave of absence policy and taking the position that such a clause violates the ADA.  Given this scrutiny, it's probably a good idea to review your leave of absence policy and ensure there isn't one of these automatic triggers.  At the same time, make sure your policies don't require an employee to be 100% released for full duty before returning to work.  This type of provision also can lead to problems with ADA compliance. 


UPDATE:  The EEOC has now issued the ADA Amendments Act regulations.  Stay tuned for more details on those regulations.


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Don Berner, the Labor Law, OSHA, & Immigration Law Guy
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Boyd Byers, the General Employment Law Guy
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Jason Lacey, the Employee Benefits Guy
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