Extending Leave After FMLA May Not Be Reasonable

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Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave questions continue to be a frequent inquiry from MRA members. Recently, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana) ruled in two separate pro-employer cases that a long-term medical leave of absence after FMLA leave has been exhausted cannot be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In both cases, the employees requested multiple months of additional leave after their FMLA had expired and the employers declined to grant that additional time and terminated their employment.

Specifically in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., the appellate court found that a medical leave spanning several months did not allow the employee the ability to perform the essential functions of the job, as required under the ADA. The court made it clear that longer leaves of absence were more suitable under the FMLA, rather than the ADA. Moreover, in Golden v. Indianapolis Housing Agency, the 7th Circuit reached a similar conclusion in finding that an employer did not need to provide additional leave to an employee whose leave had expired and remained unable to perform the essential job functions.

Key Takeaway for MRA members
While this is welcome news for employers in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, MRA members are advised not to automatically terminate employment solely because the employee has exhausted his or her FMLA leave. Employers are still required to engage in the interactive process, per the ADA, when leaves are exhausted and before the decision to terminate employment. Prior to termination, employers must determine if other reasonable accommodations are available to the employee, such as a transfer to a vacant position, a modified or reduced work schedule, or an intermittent, short leave of absence for a few days or weeks.

The key is fully engaging in the interactive process and making individualized assessments to best determine whether a short-term leave of absence will help the employee effectively return to work. Our 24/7 HR Advisors are available to answer your FMLA and ADA questions at 866-HR-HOTLINE (866-474-6854), or email InfoNow@mranet.org.

Source: Michael Hyatt, HR Government Affairs Director, MRA – The Management Association