This series, beginning here, explores the top ten ways that employers deny employees their medical leave rights.
#8 – Misidentifying Medical Leave As “Indefinite”
There is only one bright-line rule when it comes to leave as a reasonable accommodation: an employer is not required to provide an employee with “indefinite” leave. (See, e.g., Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11068, subd. (c).) The rationale behind this rule is that leave as a reasonable accommodation is meant to allow an employee to recuperate and return to work. If the employee cannot say whether and when he can return to work, an employer cannot be required to hold that employee’s position.
Sometimes employers deem a leave request indefinite because the return-to-work date is not precise or may be subject to reevaluation. However, an employee seeking leave need not show that the leave is certain or even likely to be successful in proving that it is a reasonable accommodation; the employee need only show it would plausibly enable the employee to return and perform his job. (Humphrey v. Mem’l Hosps. Ass’n (9th Cir. 2001) 239 F.3d 1128, 1136.)
The EEOC has made the following point: “In certain situations, an employee may be able to provide only an approximate date of return. Treatment and recuperation do not always permit exact timetables. Thus, an employer cannot claim undue hardship solely because an employee can provide only an approximate date of return.” (EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA (Oct. 17, 2002), at Q&A 44.)
Thus, an employer may not treat as indefinite leave one with an approximate return date or where the situation changes and the original return date has been revised. (See Garcia-Ayala v. Lederle Parenterals, Inc. (1st Cir. 2000) 212 F.3d 638, 648-50 [discussing difference between indefinite leave and one with approximate or revised return dates].)
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To read about the next way that employers deny employees their leave rights, click here: #9 – Forcing Employees To Be Out On Leave.
This series was adapted from Ramit Mizrahi’s article in The Advocate Magazine, “Ten Ways That Employers Deny Employees Their Medical Leave Rights (June 2017).
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