The Americans with Disabilities Act and state law both require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to their employees, if they are necessary to allow the employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs. These accommodations can take many forms. They can involve supplying equipment, removing barriers, restructuring an employee’s job, modifying his or her schedule, etc.
What if an employee needs a leave of absence because of a disability? For instance, what if they need time off due to a flare up of their condition, or to recover from a disability-related surgery or treatment? This obviously requires the employee to be away from work entirely during the leave of absence. Does an employer have to provide this kind of accommodation, essentially allowing the employee to not work for a while, and then return him or her to the job they held previously?
The answer is “yes,“ as long as certain conditions are met. First, the amount of the leave requested be reasonable, and it cannot be indefinite. The employer is entitled to know approximately when the employee will be able to return. Second, if the leave of absence requested would impose an undue hardship on the employer, the employer does not have to provide it. So if the employer can show that doing without the employee for the period of time requested would do harm to the employer’s business, it may not be necessary in that circumstance for the employer to accommodate employee’s request for leave.
It is important to note that the employer does not have to provide paid leave in these situations, and can require the employee to pay for the cost of keeping their insurance in place while they are off.
Obviously, questions about whether a particular leave of absence is a “reasonable accommodation” can be tricky. Both employers and employees should get qualified legal representation when addressing these kinds of issues. Making mistakes in this arena can be very costly, and can result in significant damages if the wrong choice is made.