- A medical assistant failed to explain how she was both allegedly entitled to an Americans with Disabilities Act workplace accommodation and unable to work and in need of Social Security disability benefits, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded, dismissing her ADA suit (Williams v. Pinnacle Health Family Care Middletown; Pinnacle Health Medical Services, No. 20-2737 (3rd Cir., March 24, 2021)).
- After exhausting available Family and Medical Leave Act leave, the plaintiff was unable to return to work. The employer granted her another month of leave but at its conclusion, she still had not provided required return-to-work clearance from her doctor and said she was unable to work. The company fired her and she sued, alleging it failed to accommodate her disability as the ADA requires.
- A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's ruling for the employer, explaining that she had not provided the required clearance from her doctor indicating that she could return to work and failed to explain the "apparent inconsistency" between her receipt of disability benefits and her claim that she was qualified for the ADA's protections.
The appeals court noted that receipt of Social Security disability benefits is not dispositive of whether an individual is qualified for the ADA's protection, but that individuals must be able to offer an explanation.
There are "many situations in which an SSDI claim and an ADA claim can comfortably exist side by side" because the definition for SSDI "does not take the possibility of 'reasonable accommodation' into account" as the ADA does, according to a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. And in 2019, the 1st Circuit took the position that while the standards for "disability" are different under Social Security rules and the ADA, it's up to the plaintiff to reconcile the two different positions. The appeals court held that the plaintiff in that instance was not a qualified individual under the ADA because she was unable to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation.
Rather than spending a great deal of time determining whether a mental or physical condition qualifies as a disability under the ADA, experts often recommend that employers explore possible accommodations for workers' impairments and have an accommodation policy in place before a request is made. After an employee requests an accommodation or the need for one becomes apparent, employers should begin the interactive process, experts have said.