- A trial court erred in granting summary judgment for an employer that declined to give an employee five additional weeks of leave following a three-month leave of absence, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined (Ruiz v. ParadigmWorks Group, Inc., No. 18-55259 (9th Cir. Sept. 24, 2019)).
- When Corinna Ruiz broke her ankle, she required about three months off for surgery and recovery, according to court documents. When she needed an additional five weeks, the employer fired her.
- Reversing the lower court's ruling, the 9th Circuit noted that the Americans with Disabilties Act (ADA) contemplates leave — beyond what is usually provided to employees — as a reasonable accommodation. While the law does not require an employer to wait indefinitely for an employee’s medical condition to be corrected, most people heal from a broken ankle "in the foreseeable future," the 9th Circuit said. The appeals court directed the lower court to address whether Ruiz’s request would have posed an undue hardship.
Courts and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) generally take the position that leave beyond what employers provide or what the Family and Medical Leave Act allows can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
Barring undue hardship, employers must provide exceptions to policies that limit the amount of leave employees can take for workers with disabilities, according to the EEOC's guidance, Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers don't need to allow "indefinite" leave, however, EEOC has said. But requests with an end date — even those that involve multiple requests for extensions — require an individual analysis.
Still, HR professionals continue to seek guidance on just how much leave is too much. The 7th Circuit came close to providing some answers in 2017, finding that a multi-month leave of absence is beyond the scope of reasonable accommodation. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, leaving the 7th Circuit's ruling intact. But experts have warned that it applies only to those employers operating in that jurisdiction — and that cracks in the reasoning behind the ruling are already starting to show.