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Seventh Circuit Says That Long Term Leave Not Required Under ADA

When a disabled employee cannot work and requests an extended period of time off work to recover, is an employer required to grant that request under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?  The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which serves Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, recently said that the answer to that question is no.

In Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., the Seventh Circuit held that a “multimonth leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation under the ADA."  The court reasoned that to be qualified for protection under the ADA, an employee must be able to perform the work if the employer grants the request for a reasonable accommodation.  But granting extended leave does not allow an employee to work; instead, it excuses the employee's failure to work.  An employee who needs long term leave cannot work and thus is not qualified under the ADA.  Thus, the court determined that an employee was not entitled to take 2-3 months off work as a reasonable accommodation.

For several reasons, the Seventh Circuit's decision should be followed only with caution by employers.

First, an employee may have right to take long term leave under other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); the ADA issue in the Severson case only came up because the employee had already exhausted his right to leave under FMLA.

Second, the ADA may still require granting short term leave so an employee can recover to the point where he is able to work.  The Seventh Circuit stated in Severson that an employer may still be required to give intermittent time off, or a short leave of absence of a couple days or weeks, as a reasonable accommodation in some circumstances.

Finally, several federal courts and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) disagree with the Seventh Circuit's position on leave under the ADA.  The EEOC and other courts follow the rule that long term leave may be required under the ADA, but can be denied if it would present an undue hardship for the employer.

If you have questions regarding your rights or obligations under the ADA, feel free to contact one of the Employment attorneys at BNPN.