Must an Employer Offer Leave as an Accommodation?

On September 20, 2017 the Seventh Circuit upheld a decision from a lower district court in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc that an employer did not violate the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide an employee with a long term medical leave of absence.  In the Severson case, employee Severson took twelve weeks of Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) due to severe back pain.  Prior to the end of the FMLA leave, Severson let his employer know he required surgery and requested an additional two to three months of leave.  The employer, Heartland, denied the request and terminated Severson.  Heartland invited Severson to reapply when he was medically cleared to work.  Severson did not reapply and instead sued Heartland for discrimination under the ADA for failing to provide him with “leave as a reasonable accommodation.”  The Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling stating, “If the proposed accommodation does not make it possible for the employee to perform his job, then the employee is not a ‘qualified individual’ as that term is defined in the ADA.”

In response to the Seventh Circuit decision, the EEOC filed a brief as amicus curiae supporting the reversal of the Seventh Circuit decision.  In the brief, the EEOC asserts, “When an employee requests a temporary leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation, the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions should be assessed as of the projected end of the leave period.”

As the EEOC opposes the Seventh Circuit decision, employers should continue to evaluate accommodation requests on a case by case basis. With every evaluation, it is important to engage in the interactive discussion process with the employee, and document the interactive process.  The Larkin Company is currently beta testing ADA services that we plan to offer all clients in addition to our current services.  Our ADA program is designed for Larkin to engage in and document the interactive process on behalf of our clients.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is located in Chicago, Illinois and has jurisdiction over the Central District of Illinois, Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Illinois, Northern District of Indiana, Southern District of Indiana, Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Western District of Wisconsin.

The Larkin Company is here to help.  Please contact us and we will schedule a time to review your plans and policies.