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Reasonable Accommodations Under The Ada Beyond Fmla Entitlement

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., No. 15-3754, 2017 WL 4160849 (7th Cir. Sept. 20, 2017) that the ADA does not require employers to accommodate employees by granting them leave well beyond the employee’s leave entitlement under the FMLA.  The Court addressed what amount of leave constitutes a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and concluded that employers are not required to provide multiple months of additional leave, despite a stipulation of definite duration, to employees who have already exhausted their 12 weeks of FMLA leave. The Court’s decision was premised on the fact that long periods of leave render employees practically unable to work and unable to be “qualified individuals” under the ADA.  The Court, however, indicated that short periods of additional leave would continue to be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA given the proper factual circumstances.

The Seventh Circuit’s holding is in contrast to the EEOC’s position on the matter; that is, that long-term, extended medical leaves are reasonable accommodations so long as the leave is definite in time, requested in advance, and will allow an employee to resume his or her job duties after leave. The Seventh Circuit criticized the EEOC’s position as facially unsound because it transforms the ADA “into a medical-leave statute—in effect, an open-ended extension of the FMLA.”

Employers should be aware that there is disagreement on this issue among the Circuits. Absent a decision by the Supreme Court, employers who employ individuals in multiple states should be aware of each circuit’s position on the reasonableness of additional or extended leave beyond the FMLA leave period.