Category Archives: Medical Leave

Seventh Circuit Holds that Multiple-Month Extended Leaves Are Not Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA

Contributed by Allison P. Sues, September 27, 2017

Because not all recoveries from medical conditions come in neat twelve-week packages, employers commonly need to address employees’ requests for additional leave after they have exhausted all leave afforded under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) or company policy.

Clock and StethoscopeThe U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long taken the position that terminating an employee who has exhausted FMLA leave, but is still not able to return to work, may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). For instance, the EEOC guidance, issued on May 9, 2016, opined that providing additional leave may be necessary as a reasonable accommodation.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a decision running contrary to this EEOC guidance and the prevailing precedent in other circuits, holding in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., that an employee is not entitled to extended leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

In this case, employee Severson took a twelve-week medical leave from work under the FMLA to deal with serious back pain (the statutory maximum). Shortly before this leave expired, Severson notified his employer that he was scheduled to undergo back surgery, and requested an additional two to three months of leave to recover from surgery. The company denied Severson’s request to continue his medical leave beyond the FMLA entitlement, terminated his employment, and invited him to reapply when he was medically cleared to work.  Instead, Severson sued, alleging a failure to reasonably accommodate his disability—namely, a three-month leave of absence after his FMLA leave expired.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court and clarified that a medical leave spanning multiple months is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation. Finding that the employer did not violate the ADA by refusing to provide the additional leave, the Seventh Circuit explicitly stated that an employee, who cannot not work or perform their job’s essential functions, is not a “qualified individual” under the ADA.  Further highlighting its position, the Court distinguished between the FMLA, which it held was intended to provide long-term medical leave for those who cannot work, while the ADA is meant to require accommodation only for those “that can do the job.”

Before employers in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana reinstate strict Maximum Leave Policies and No-Fault Termination policies, whereby employees are automatically terminated if they cannot return to work when FMLA or other awarded leave is exhausted, several limitations to Severson should be noted.

Severson’s holding is limited to “medical leave[s] spanning multiple months.” The Court acknowledged that finite extensions of leave for shorter durations – described as “a couple of days or even a couple of weeks”, but less than multiple months – may still be deemed a reasonable accommodation.

The Court further acknowledged that intermittent leaves of short duration may constitute reasonable accommodations in the same way a part-time or modified work schedule may be a reasonable accommodation for employees dealing with medical flare-ups. Moreover, employers should be cautious about maintaining 100% Healed Policies, whereby an employer requires employees to have no medical restrictions whatsoever when their leave ends.

At any time employees have exhausted their leave, but are not fully cleared to return to work, the employer should engage in the ADA’s interactive process and consider the following before deciding to terminate employment:

  • Whether the employee’s current medical restrictions affect the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the position;
  • If the restrictions do impact the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions, are reasonable accommodations available that would enable the employee to perform these functions;
  • Whether vacant positions exist that the employee would be qualified to perform and could be reassigned into;
  • Whether the employer has a policy of creating light-duty positions for employees who are occupationally injured and whether this benefit could be extended to the employee without posing an undue hardship; and
  • Whether the employee’s request for additional leave is definite in time and of a short duration, and if this extended leave could be provided without posing an undue hardship.

 

Paid Sick Leave Mandate For Federal Contractors Beginning In 2017

Contributed by Julie A. Proscia and Steven W. Jados

On Monday, President Obama signed an Executive Order outlining the paid sick leave benefits that many federal contractors will be required to provide as early as January 1, 2017.

A wide range of federal contracts entered into on or after January 1, 2017, and any subcontracts entered into thereunder, will be required to include language under which employees will earn no less than one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked under covered contracts.

That leave may be used by an employee for absences due to any of the following:

(i) Physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition;

(ii) Obtaining diagnosis, care, or preventative care from a health care provider;

(iii) caring for a child, a parent, a spouse, a domestic partner, or any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship who has any of the conditions or needs for diagnosis, care, or preventive care described in paragraphs (i) or (ii) of this subsection or is otherwise in need of care; or

(iv) domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, if the time absent from work is for the purposes otherwise described in paragraphs (i) and (ii) of this subsection, to obtain additional counseling, to seek relocation, to seek assistance from a victim services organization, to take related legal action, including preparation for or participation in any related civil or criminal legal proceeding, or to assist an individual related to the employee as described in paragraph (iii) of this subsection in engaging in any of these activities.

Absent employeeRequests to use this paid sick leave are to be made orally or in writing, at least seven days prior to the request—or as soon as practicable if the need for leave is not foreseeable—and such requests are to include the anticipated duration of the employee’s leave. Covered employers may not condition an employee’s use of leave earned under the Order on an employee finding his or her own replacement to cover missed work. Employers also may not require certification from a medical provider of the need for leave under Sections (i), (ii), or (iii), above, unless an employee is absent for three or more consecutive days. If an employee is absent three or more consecutive days for a reason covered by Section (iv), above, the employer may require a limited certification from an appropriate individual or organization.

Covered employees must be allowed to accrue no fewer than 56 hours (approximately seven days) of paid sick leave each year and, as the Order is presently drafted, all such accrued but unused sick leave may be carried-over year after year with no limitation.  Additionally, if an employee separates from covered employment, but is rehired within 12 months of the separation, the employee’s paid sick leave accrued under the Order as of the separation date must be reinstated.  The Order does not, however, require unused sick leave to be paid-out to employees upon separation from employment.

Federal contractors and subcontractors who already have paid leave policies need not make any changes to those policies, so long as an existing policy provides at least as much leave as the Order requires and that leave can be used for the reasons and under the conditions described in the Order. That said, paid sick leave under the Order is to be in addition to any prior obligations that an employer may have under other provisions of federal law.

The contracts to which the Order applies will generally include any new contract or contract-like instrument, provided:

(i)  (A) it is a procurement contract for services or construction;

(B) it is a contract or contract-like instrument for services covered by the Service Contract Act;

(C) it is a contract or contract-like instrument for concessions, including any concessions contract excluded by Department of Labor regulations at 29 CFR 4.133 (b); or

(D) it is a contract or contract-like instrument entered into with the Federal Government in connection with Federal property or lands and related to offering services for federal employees, their dependents, or the general public; and

(ii) The wages of employees under such contract or contract-like instrument are governed by the Davis-Bacon Act, the Service Contract Act, or the Fair Labor Standards Act, including employees who qualify for an exemption from its minimum wage and overtime provisions.

Independent federal agencies are strongly encouraged, but not required to comply with the requirements of the Order.

The Executive Order also contains anti-discrimination, anti-interference, and anti-retaliation provisions, and calls for the Department of Labor to implement any necessary regulations under the Order by September 30, 2016.