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Court rulings on the issue of whether employers must permit undefined and/or extended leaves of absence differ.
In the “con” category is Raymond Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft Inc., in which the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago held in its pro-employer September ruling that “a multimonth leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation under the (Americans with Disabilities Act).”
In October, the 7th Circuit again ruled in the employer’s favor in Marytza Golden v. Indianapolis Housing Agency, in a case where the doctor of a worker suffering from breast cancer could not say when she would be able to return to work.
Other courts that have issued pro-employer rulings include the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which held in its October ruling in Roderick Billups v. Emerald Coast Utilities Authority that an employee with an injured shoulder was “essentially requesting indefinite leave.”
In addition, in Grace Hwang v. Kansas State University, a 2014 ruling written by future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said the answer to the question of whether employers must offer more than six months’ sick time “is almost always no.”
However, in its May ruling in Echevarria v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceutical L.P., the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled against an employee who asked for 12 months of leave in addition to the five months she had already taken, but also held that extended leaves of absence can be a reasonable accommodation if they are “facially reasonable.”
Meanwhile in September, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit in EEOC v. Blood Bank of Hawaii, stating the Honolulu-based blood bank’s “rigid” maximum leave policy limited employees to the 12 weeks required provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
A significant appeals court ruling that says employers are not obligated to provide indefinite leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act offers a welcome relief to employers within the court’s jurisdiction.