ADA trumps inflexible medical leave policies


An employee who is currently on medical leave contacted you because her doctor indicated that she can return to work at the end of her approved leave with several restrictions, including that she should not lift anything that weighs more than 25 pounds. She insists that she can still perform her job with these restrictions and wants to return to work. Under your company’s medical leave policy, however, an employee who cannot return to work without restrictions when his or her medical leave has expired is automatically terminated. Should you apply the policy and terminate the employee?


No. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) trumps inflexible leave policies. Assuming the employee will be disabled when she returns to work, you must first determine whether her disability can be reasonably accommodated without undue hardship to your employer. This is an individualized assessment, not one dictated by the organization’s medical leave policy.

In a case with similar facts, an employer agreed to pay $380,000 to 13 claimants in settlement of a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The complaint highlighted the company’s inflexible medical leave policy and practice of terminating employees with disabilities at the end of their medical leaves, rather bringing them back to work with reasonable accommodations.

“An inflexible period of disability leave, even if substantial, is not sufficient to satisfy an employer’s duty of reasonable accommodation,” according to John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC. In testimony before the commission, Hendrickson also stated, “The appropriate length of leave under the ADA requires an individualized analysis — even when the employer has a generous fixed leave policy.”

JAN. If, in consultation with the employee, employers are unable to identify a reasonable accommodation, they should consider contacting the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for further assistance. JAN offers no-charge, expert guidance on workplace accommodations.

Source: EEOC v. United Road Towing Inc. (NDIll 2012) No. 10-cv-6259; Testimony of John Hendrickson, June 8, 2011,

JAN can be reached at 800-526-7234 or at

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