Medical Leave: A Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA?
Posted at Arkansas Employment Law by M. McClure on 07/02/2010

Medical leave can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADAI recently taught a semester of Employment Law at the UALR Bowen School of Law, and the most difficult topic for my very talented students seemed to be the intersection of the ADA, FMLA and Workers Comp statutes.  Most HR professionals would not be surprised by this observation because they struggle with these statutes on a daily basis. Well, it's all about to become even more complicated.

Several courts have recognized that time away from work can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. And, the recent amendments to the ADA suggest that the statute will cover many more employees.  The EEOC's website states it pretty clearly: "The Act emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis." 

This change will mean that employers will need to consider the ADA's impact on an employee's request for medical leave.  A recent article by Michael J. Lotito suggests that courts will often consider two questions, among others, when determining whether medical leave is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA: " (1) would the leave fulfill its medical purpose? (i.e., would the employee be able to perform the essential functions of his or her job upon return to work); and (2) would the employee's return to work be relatively close in time?"  Lotito correctly points out that no bright line exists where ADA accommodations are concerned, and that every request for leave should be examined individually. 

Although the EEOC's regulations interpreting the amended ADA were expected out this summer, it looks like they will be delayed.  In the meantime, employers should be aware that the amended ADA could affect the decisions that they make when granting or denying medical leaves.