3 Steps Employers Must Take When Engaging in the Interactive ADA Process

Here are three things to keep in mind when responding to requests for extended leave that will help your business avoid unnecessary legal proceedings and costs.

Employment and labor relations attorneys across the country took notice when the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided not to review an appellate court decision regarding leave of absence from work. The appellate court held that a leave of absence lasting several months is not a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A reasonable accommodation is defined as a change to an employee’s job duties that allows an employee with disabilities to perform his/her job. That decision came from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The plaintiff in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. requested that the Supreme Court decide whether a finite leave of absence of more than one month is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Mr. Severson had taken a 12-week leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to deal with serious back pain. At the end of the 12-week FMLA period, he had back surgery and told his employer that he could not work for an additional two to three months while he recovered. The employer denied his request and later terminated his employment. Mr. Severson brought suit against his employer, alleging that they had violated the ADA by failing to grant the additional leave as a reasonable accommodation. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, which is a judgment entered by the court without a full trial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that ruling, reasoning that an extended medical leave would not assist Mr. Severson in performing his job, but would actually keep him from working. 

RELATED: Check out other articles by the legal team at Walter | Haverfield by clicking here.
 
When the plaintiff requested that the Supreme Court hear the case and express its opinion on the issue, the court declined. Without the Supreme Court weighing in, there is contradictory authority depending on the employer’s jurisdiction. Outside the Seventh Circuit, multiple courts of appeals (including the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have held that a finite leave of absence can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Further, the EEOC has even indicated that placing a limit on the amount of leave to which an employee is entitled is a violation of the ADA.  

Without the Supreme Court's input or consistent guidance on the issue, employers should always engage in the ADA interactive process with employees to evaluate possible reasonable accommodations, including finite leaves of absence. Here are three key recommendations for employers to follow when responding to requests for extended leave:

Recommendation No. 1
Consider all laws, regulations and policies that may apply to the request. The ADA, FMLA, state and local laws may operate to provide leave for the employee.  Additionally, check your handbooks and policies to see if the leave request fits into any of your company’s leave provisions. 

Recommendation No. 2 

Talk it through. Explore whether another accommodation, such as a revised work schedule or frequent breaks, would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her position.

Recommendation No. 3
When in doubt, consult an attorney.  Determining whether any request, including a leave of absence, is a reasonable accommodation can be complicated, and requires consideration of many factors. 

Following these recommendations will help employees receive required reasonable accommodations under the law. They will also help employers avoid unnecessary legal proceedings and expense.

Rina Russo is an attorney with Walter | Haverfield’s Labor & Employment Services practice group. She can be reached at 216-928-2928 or at rrusso@walterhav.com.


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  • Next up: 3 Things to Know: Employment Law
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  • 3 Things to Know: Employment Law

    Correct classification, smart use of business tools and dealing with workplace misconduct—as a business owner, there’s a lot to know when it comes to employment law. We’re looking back at some of the articles that touched on this topic from Mind Your Business.

    We’ve written a lot about employment law and covered a variety of related topics. Here are three things we think you need to know.

    The first thing you need to know: Correct classification is crucial. Misclassifying employees can be pricey with taxes and penalties that can add up. One common misclassification is treating contractors as employees. Be aware of the distinctions between your employees and your independent contractors. Another step in avoiding major lawsuits and other costs is to understand the differences between exempt and nonexempt employees as laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act. And, here are 10 things you should know about mitigating exposure to employment-related lawsuits.

    The second thing you need to know: Be smart with your business tools. There are many forms, contracts and other tools that are helpful to your business—if you use them correctly. Non-compete and non-disclosure agreements are often regarded in the same light, but you’ll want to know the differences in how they work and why they are important. If you feel overwhelmed when it comes to the many different types of employment contracts, agreements and lingo, join us as we take this deep dive into the 13 essential employment contract provisions.

    The third thing you need to know: Dealing with workplace misconduct is part of the gig. Ideally, you’ll have pretty good success at keeping the peace in your workplace. But in the event that you find yourself in a sticky situation, here are some guidelines for dealing with employee misconduct. If a sticky situation escalates to something more intense, be sure to know when, where and how to conduct employee workplace searches. And no matter what kinds of situations arise, as a business owner it’s necessary to know the limitations of employment at will.

    Join us for BizConCLE 2018 on Nov. 1 as we offer workshops that delve into such topics as the top 10 HR mistakes to avoid and much more. Click here to learn more and register.

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  • Next up: 3 Things to Know: Employing Millennials
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  • Next up: 3 Things to Know: Office Safety
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    No matter what business you own, your most important job is keeping your employees and customers safe. Here are some informative articles from Mind Your Business that shed light on this critical topic.

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  • Next up: 4 Reasons a High School Intern Could be a Fit for Your Business
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  • 4 Reasons a High School Intern Could be a Fit for Your Business

    When you’re evaluating potential candidates for your internship program, don’t discount students who might still be in high school. These younger candidates can bring unique value to your business.

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  • Next up: Getting Away: 4 Ways to Recharge Without Neglecting Your Business
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  • Getting Away: 4 Ways to Recharge Without Neglecting Your Business

    We know your business takes up a lot of your time, but you can still manage to break away to recharge your batteries without everything going to pieces at your company.

    I have been working with clients to shape more balance in their lives.  I have been working to do that in my own life as well.  There are a few things that I have learned.

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    Monika Moss-Gransberry is President of MKM Management Consulting 

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