The Practical EmployerDon’t Ignore Unpaid Leaves as a Reasonable Accommodation
Under the ADA, an employer must consider granting unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation.
- A Detroit casino operator violated federal law by denying a reasonable accommodation to and then firing an employee because of his disability. According to EEOC’s lawsuit, Michael Lepine was a pit manager in the table games department for Greektown Casino. In February 2012 he was hospitalized for his stress-anxiety disorder and requested a leave extension until April 30. The employer refused the extension and fired him on April 2.
- Harrison Poultry, Inc., a poultry hatchery located in Bethlehem, Georgia, will pay $100,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit. EEOC filed suit in 2014 charging that Harrison Poultry violated federal law when it failed to provide a manager with a reasonable accommodation for his disability and then fired him. According to the complaint, in July 2012, the manager requested a seven-day extension to his previously approved vacation leave to comply with his doctor’s orders restricting him from working during that time. EEOC charged that instead of granting the manager’s request for additional medical leave, the company immediately fired him, before he even exhausted his vacation time.
Under the ADA, an employer must consider granting unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation, provided that the employee actually requests the accommodation.
An indefinite leave of absence — one from which neither the employee nor his or her doctor can provide a date upon which the employee can return to performing the essential functions of the position — is per se unreasonable under the ADA. An unpaid leave of some limited duration, however, will be reasonable in most cases.
As these two EEOC lawsuits illustrate, if you fail to consider a requested unpaid leave as an accommodation, you have almost certainly violated the ADA.
Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.