If an employee requests leave from work, the first thing that comes to your mind might be the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a medical condition, to care for a family member’s medical condition, or to welcome a new addition to the family.
You could be required to provide leave, however, even if the employee does not qualify for leave under the FMLA. This is because employees with disabilities may qualify for leave as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), even if they have exhausted their FMLA leave, if they are too new to qualify for FMLA leave, or when your company isn’t covered by the FLMA.
The ADA doesn’t define the word “reasonable,” but it requires reasonable accommodations be made for employees with disabilities. What will be considered reasonable depends on the facts of each situation and whether the accommodation would cause undue hardship (significant expense or trouble) to the employer.
Under the ADA, leave may be a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability who needs time to care for that disability. Even extended leave may be appropriate under certain circumstances, especially if it causes little hardship to the business.
Questions to ask about whether leave is an appropriate accommodation
First, review the facts. What is the employee actually asking for? Are they requesting leave that would be guaranteed by the FMLA if that law applied in this case? Courts may not find it reasonable to deny leave for technicalities.
Consider whether another type of accommodation is available that would meet the employee’s needs. If not, think about how much leave the worker has already taken, including any extensions. Is their condition improving? Has a doctor estimated when the employee can return? If there have been changes in that estimate, has the employee explained why? What is the actual effect of the employee’s absence on the company?
The decision on whether to grant any ADA accommodation should be made interactively with the employee, but employers often don’t realize this. One thing employers can do is to avoid the premature conclusion that an employee’s leave request is for indefinite leave. Instead, try to get a concrete sense of what is actually being requested.
Another mistake some employers make is to assume that the employee’s request is the only possibility that needs to be considered. They see it as a question of granting or denying the request rather than looking for a way the problem can be addressed that will be satisfactory to everyone.
If you have questions about ADA or FMLA leave, contact your employment law attorney.