ADA Doesn’t Require Leave ‘Until Further Notice’

 

By Jonathan E. O’Connell November 20, 2018
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​An employee who couldn't have returned to her job at the end of her medical leave even if additional leave had been granted as a reasonable accommodation lost her Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim. The worker failed to provide appropriate medical documentation to substantiate her need for ADA leave.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut held that a former employee's complaint alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could not proceed because she was not a "qualified individual" within the meaning of the law.

The plaintiff began working for Amedisys Holdings LLC in 2008 as a home health aide. In this role, she traveled to the homes of the company's patients and provided personal care assistance, such as helping patients with bathing, preparing meals and changing clothes. On Oct. 28, 2015, the plaintiff allegedly fell while outside a patient's house, injuring a knee. She subsequently provided the company with a note from her physician, which stated that she needed to be out of work "until further notice."

On Nov. 4, 2015, the company wrote to the plaintiff, requesting that her physician complete and return a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) certification of health care provider form. She ultimately provided the form, indicating that she would need leave until approximately May 15, 2016.

On Feb. 11, 2016, the company informed the plaintiff that her leave beginning on Feb. 17, 2016, was no longer approved because she had exhausted all leave available under the federal FMLA, as well as the Connecticut FMLA. The company also advised the plaintiff that if she required additional leave as an accommodation under the ADA, she would need to submit the requisite medical documentation within 15 days.

The plaintiff did not respond. On March 2, 2016, the company reached out to the plaintiff again regarding its need for appropriate documentation. The plaintiff did not provide the necessary paperwork.

On March 16, 2016, the company informed the plaintiff of its decision to terminate her employment based on the lack of requested documentation and the application of its failure-to-report policy. The plaintiff later filed suit against the company, alleging failure to accommodate under the ADA, as well as retaliation under Connecticut's workers' compensation statute. The company filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the plaintiff's case prior to trial.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Accommodating Employees' Disabilities]

The court noted the basic requirement of the ADA that an employer reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability. A plaintiff must establish that he or she could "perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation." While the court acknowledged the well-established principle that a temporary leave of absence may constitute a reasonable accommodation, it also noted that an employer is not required to place an employee on an indefinite leave.

The court reasoned that the plaintiff had not produced any evidence that an accommodation of temporary leave would have allowed her to return to work and perform the essential functions of her job. In fact, the plaintiff had acknowledged that she did not believe she would ever be able to work as a home health aide in the future. In other words, the plaintiff was not able to perform the essential functions of her job with a reasonable accommodation. Thus, the court granted summary judgment in the company's favor as to the plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim.

[SHRM members-only resource page: Americans with Disabilities Act]

Finally, the court dismissed the plaintiff's workers' compensation retaliation cause of action, finding that there was no causal connection between the filing of her claim and her separation, nor any other evidence that would suggest retaliatory motive.

Atusta Lorius v. Amedisys Holding LLC, D. Conn., No. 3:17-CV-292 (Oct. 23, 2018).

Professional Pointer: One of the most challenging scenarios an HR professional can experience is a fact pattern involving interaction among the federal FMLA, the state FMLA, the ADA and state workers' compensation statutes. A mistake in application in one or more of these laws can afford an employee the opportunity to assert numerous causes of action against an employer.

Jonathan E. O'Connell, SHRM-SCP, is a labor and employment attorney practicing with the federal government in Washington, D.C.

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