We have focused on the Americans With Disabilities Act over the past few articles. As previously noted, perhaps the most difficult issue for employers under the ADA relates to the extent an employer must permit an indefinite leave as a reasonable accommodation.
A recent case shed important light on this issue.
The employee worked as a supervisor of released adult offenders. The employee’s job description listed 18 essential functions, including performing drug screenings, ensuring compliance with court orders and testifying in court. Additionally, her job required her to engage in fieldwork, such as visiting released offenders in their homes or in jail.
Over a period of two years, the employee had, and attempted to recover from, hip surgery. During this time period, she could not perform all of the essential functions of her job.
The employee exhausted Family and Medical Leave Act leave, and was unable to return to work. Her doctor indicated she probably would be able to work in a “few weeks.” However, the doctor did not give the employee a release to return to work.
The employee clearly could not work the essential functions of her job. Did the employer have to grant the employee a continued unpaid leave of absence, when the employer did not have a firm date when the employee would be able to return to work?
The court answered "no." It held for a leave of absence to be a reasonable accommodation, an employee must provide her employer with an estimated date when she can resume her essential duties, and a leave request must assure an employer that an employee can perform the essential functions of her position in the “near future."
This is an excellent case for employers. The question of what is “near future” remains open. However, the case reaffirms the fact that employers do not have to grant indefinite unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.