Potential Game Changing Decision: Extended Leave Not A Reasonable Accommodation

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that extended time off, after all paid and Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA) leave has been exhausted is not a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The decision in the matter Severson v. Woodcraft, Inc., runs contrary to the long standing position taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and many courts that have routinely held that even when an employee has exhausted all leave, the employer must still perform an “undue hardship” analysis to determine if it must maintain the individual’s employment. The analysis often leads employers to maintain employees on their books for lengthy periods of time, sometimes in excess of 12 months, even after all leave has been exhausted. In Severson, the court held that the employer was not obligated to provide its employee additional leave after his FMLA leave had expired. The employee had indicated that he would be able to return to work two or three months after his FMLA leave had expired. In finding that providing an additional two or three months of leave was not a reasonable accommodation, the Court ruled that the ADA is not a medical leave statute and should not be used to create an “open-ended extension of the FMLA.”

For those outside of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, this decision does not change anything…yet. However it suggests that the tide is turning on this issue to a more reasonable interpretation of what is a “reasonable accommodation.” Stay tuned.