A federal court recently decided that denial of extended leave for an employee did not violate the federal Rehabilitation Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which also hears cases originally tried in the District of Colorado, decided that an employer was not required to extend unpaid leave for an employee after the maximum paid leave period is exhausted. This ruling will likely often have implications concerning cases revolving around the American with Disabilities Act as well.
The plaintiff was a faculty member at a university who had taken leave for treatment of cancer. This employee was granted the maximum six month paid medical leave. However, her request for an extension of this leave was denied and she then sued her employer.
Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees when it comes to items such as medical leave. However, the appellate court ruled that this was not the type of reasonable accommodation that needed to be granted. "After all, reasonable accommodation - typically things like adding ramps or allowing more flexible working hours - are all about enabling employees to work, not to not work," stated the court.
While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has brought suit against employers for leave policies that are purportedly inflexible, there still were no requirements that "non-performing employee" be retained for longer than six months. This was the case even if other jobs the employee could perform were available.
We will likely see more cases of these types in the future. Employment law matters are becoming more heavily regulated and thus more complex over time for attorneys to try. Attorneys are required with in-depth knowledge of state and federal employment laws.
Source: Bloomberg BNA, "College Didn't Violate Rehabilitation Act By Denying Medical Leave Beyond Six Months," Kevin P. McGowan, June 2, 2014