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James P. Tarquin, P.A. Motto
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Is A Leave Of Absence For Medical Treatment Or Recovery A Reasonable Accommodation Under The ADA?

Book that read disability law on the front cover

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with a disability unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business. Under the regulations promulgated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ADA, a reasonable accommodation may include job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, and acquisition or modifications of equipment or devices. To learn more about whether a leave of absence qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, continue reading on.

Under the ADA, the employee bears the burden of establishing the existence of a reasonable accommodation. To carry this burden, the employee must show that the proposed accommodation would enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job and that the requested accommodation is reasonable. If an employee is unable to establish that he or she is able to perform the essential functions of the position held, with or without a reasonable accommodation, then the employee is not a qualified individual with a disability and the employee is not protected from disability discrimination by the ADA.

Employers Resist Accommodating Employees

Having fought for the rights of victims of disability discrimination for almost twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida employment discrimination lawyers have learned that employers often discriminate against employees with a disability by failing, if not refusing, to provide them with a reasonable accommodation that would enable them to continue working. In some circumstances, the accommodation that would enable an employee to continue working is a leave of absence for medical treatment or recovery. In Robert v. Board of County Comm’s of Brown County, Kan., 691 F.3d 1211 (10th Cir. 2012), the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether a leave of absence for medical treatment or recovery can constitute a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. 

Employee Fired After FMLA & Sick Leave Exhausted

In that case, Catherine Robert (Robert) brought an ADA action against the Board of County Commissioners of Brown County, Kansas (the County) claiming that she was fired on the basis of her disability. Robert was employed by the County as a supervisor of felony offenders for ten years when she developed sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Her condition required eventually required surgery. In the weeks immediately preceding the surgery and during her recovery from surgery, Robert worked from home. During this time, she was unable to visit offenders at their homes or jail, and she was also unable to supervise drug and alcohol screenings. As a result, other employees took up those tasks. Eventually, Robert returned to the office and was able to resume all of her work duties.

However, Robert’s symptoms of sacroiliac joint dysfunction led to another surgery. After the surgery, Robert took a three-month leave of absence from work under the Family Medical leave Act (FMLA). After Robert’s FMLA leave expired, her doctor predicted that she might be able to walk with a cane in three or four weeks, and unassisted after that. After Robert had exhausted her FMLA, sick, and vacation leave, the County terminated Robert’s employment because she was unable to work at full capacity after her leave ended. When discharged, Robert conceded that she could not work outside her home and, thus, could not perform the field work essential to her position, including supervising offenders in person and conducting home visits.

The trial court dismissed Robert’s ADA claim. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit found that because Robert was unable to perform the essential functions of her position when she was terminated, the threshold question was whether the County was obligated to provide Robert with a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation for medical treatment or recovery.

Leave Of Absence Can Be A Reasonable Accommodation

The Tenth Circuit determined that “a brief leave of absence for medical treatment or recovery can be a reasonable accommodation.” However, the appellate court explained, “there are two limits on the bounds of reasonableness for a leave of absence.” First, the “employee must provide the employer with an estimated date when she can resume her essential duties.” “Without an expected end date,” the court of appeals reasoned, “an employer is unable to determine whether the temporary exemption is a reasonable one.” Second, “a leave request must assure an employer that an employee can perform the essential functions of her position in the near future.” Although the appellate court did not determine when a leave of absence would be too long to be a reasonable accommodation, it suggested that “a six-month leave request was too long to be a reasonable accommodation.

Applying these principles to the facts, the Tenth Circuit found that Robert failed to provide a definite estimate of her ability to resume the fieldwork essential to her position. The court of appeals found that the doctor’s prediction that Robert could “walk with a cane in a month’s time does not suffice to assure the County that she would be able to perform site visits and other fieldwork.” As a result, the County “did not have a reasonable estimate of when she would be able to resume all essential functions of her employment.” “As such,” the court of appeals reasoned, “the only potential accommodation that would allow Robert to perform the essential functions of her position was an indefinite reprieve from those functions—an accommodation that is unreasonable as a matter of law.” Because Robert was unable to perform the essential functions of her position, with or without a reasonable accommodation, the Tenth Circuit concluded that Robert was not a qualified individual with a disability and her ADA claim failed. 

Free Consultation With Ocala Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have extensive experience litigating disability discrimination cases in federal and state court. If you have been the victim of disability discrimination or have questions about your right to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Citrus County, Florida disability discrimination attorneys. Our employee rights law firm takes disability discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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