[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Many employers are aware that a leave of absence can sometimes be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. When faced with an employee who cannot attend work and perform his or her job, employers often argue the employee is not a qualified individual under the ADA. Although employers within the Seventh Circuit have experienced a reasonable degree of success in asserting this argument, a recent federal district court case from the Southern District of Indiana (EEOC v. Midwest Independent Transmission Systems Operator, Inc., May 30, 2013, Lawrence, W.), cautions against bypassing the fact-specific inquiry required to determine whether a leave of absence could be a reasonable accommodation in favor of “bright line” rules.
After returning from a 12-week maternity leave pursuant to the FMLA and working for nearly three months, the employee requested a 30-day leave of absence for post-partum complications. When the employee’s leave of absence concluded, she informed the employer that her doctor ordered that she be off work for an additional 30 days. Finding that her continued absence created workflow problems, the employer terminated her employment. The EEOC sued on behalf of the employee. The employer filed its motion for summary judgment based, in part, upon the argument that the employee was unable to work for a period of two months and, as such, could not meet the definition of a “qualified individual” given Seventh Circuit precedent.
The Court rejected the employer’s argument, finding the EEOC proffered evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude there were “special circumstances” demonstrating the leave requested by the employee was reasonable given the specific facts of the case. The employer argued attendance was an essential function of the employee’s job and that she could not satisfy the requirement because she could not return to work for several months. The Court, however, observed that while the employer offered the job to a replacement for the terminated employee, the replacement did not begin working in the position until three months later. The Court found a jury could discredit the employer’s assertion based upon this apparent lack of urgency to replace the employee.
This case serves as a stark reminder to employers that while attendance may be considered an essential function of a job, employers should carefully consider requests for reasonable accommodations on a case-by-case basis and in consideration of all of the facts.
For information on how this development may impact your company’s administration of leave policies, please contact any member of the KDDK Labor and Employment Law Practice Team.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]