How Long Is Too Long: Leave of Absence Under the ADA


Can finite leave of absence of more than one month can be a reasonable accommodation?

Federal circuit courts have rendered conflicting decisions regarding how much leave is reasonable under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Although given the opportunity to settle the dispute, earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals holding that a multi-month leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. 

The Seventh Circuit had issued two decisions holding that even if the employee had a disability and an essential requirement of the job was impaired by the disability, the employee was not a qualified individual entitled to ADA protections on the reasoning that the accommodation sought (a multi-month leave) would not help the employee do the job, but would keep the employee from performing job functions altogether.

Ultimately the Seventh Circuit found that while the ADA may require brief periods of medical leave, such as days or even weeks, multiple month long periods of leave are not required under the ADA. The Court stated: “…not working is not a means to perform the job’s essential functions…”.

The Eleventh Circuit (in which the State of Georgia is located) is of the same opinion.

While it seems all appeals courts, and even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), agree that indefinite leave is never a requirement, the EEOC disagrees with the Courts in that it has stated that placing a limit on the amount of disability leave to which an employee is entitled is a clear violation of the ADA.

Given the EEOC’s opinion on the issue, Georgia employers are not advised to take the position of rigidity with regards to how much leave is reasonable. Rather, employers are encouraged engage in the interactive process, consider each case individually, and err on the side of caution until further notice from SCOTUS.