When medical leave runs out, don't forget the ADA, feds say
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on August 28 filed a lawsuit against Illinois Action for Children, alleging that it failed to accommodate an employee undergoing treatment for breast cancer, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- The employee requested leave beginning in June 2015 and ending in November 2015, according to the complaint. The employer approved leave through September and fired her when she was unable to return to work at that time.
- The suit seeks back pay, front pay and punitive damages. "[E]mployers have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities that enable them to perform the essential functions of their job," said Greg Gochanour, an EEOC regional attorney, in a press release. "EEOC guidance states that an employer may have to accommodate an employee who is unable to work while she is undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments."
The EEOC's suit doesn't say why the employer granted the employee about three months of leave while denying her request for the other months, but it's a situation that often arises when an employee takes Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, for example. Employers sometimes assume that workers are limited to the 12 weeks of job protection afforded under that law.
The ADA, however, requires employers to provide accommodations to workers with disabilities. It is well-settled that leave can be a reasonable accommodation under that law, and there are no statutory or regulatory limits to that leave; instead, employers have to evaluate, on a case-by-case basis, what amount is "reasonable" for a given position or workplace.
This concept applies even when an employer's leave policy appears to be generous. UPS, for example, agreed to pay $1.7 million earlier this month to settle claims that its 12-month "no-fault" leave policy violated the ADA. The commission took issue with the policy because it was inflexible and applied to all employees equally, without the option for accommodation for workers with disabilities.
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