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Seventh Circuit Says No to Long Term Leave As Reasonable Accommodation

The Seventh Circuit has made it clear that long term leave is not a form of reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Raymond Severs worked for Heartland Woodcraft. Physical labor was essential to the performance of his job. He developed back issues that required time off of work and he used up all of his Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. Once his FMLA leave was up, he requested two to three more months of leave to recover from surgery. Heartland denied his request, instead advising him that his job would terminate at the end of FMLA leave. He was invited to reapply once he was able to perform the job. Instead, Mr. Severs sued under the ADA, alleging that Heartland had failed to accommodate his disability.

“ADA is an antidiscrimination statute, not a medical-leave entitlement,” according to the Seventh Circuit. An employee requiring long term medical leave cannot work and therefore cannot meet the ADA’s requirement that he or she is a “qualified Individual.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had argued that extended leave could be a reasonable accommodation depending on the circumstances. In this case, the EEOC had argued it was reasonable because it was limited to a certain amount of time, was requested in advance, and the employee could have returned to work thereafter to perform his job. While the appellate court rejected the EEOC’s argument, it did leave open the idea that some leave could be a reasonable accommodation. For example, intermittent leave may well qualify as reasonable accommodation as it was “analogous to a part-time or modified work schedule” which is listed in the text of the ADA.