Employers are not required to give indefinite extensions of leave as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Luke .v Board of Trustees of Fla. A&M Univ., No. 15-13995, 2016 WL 7404677 (11th Cir. Dec. 22, 2016). In Luke, the plaintiff was a patrol office for the Florida A&M University police department. She injured her knee and took leave in September 2013. On June 10, 2014, after an approved nine-month leave, she requested an extension of leave based upon her doctor’s assessment that she would be unable to work patrol shifts for “at least another six months.” Florida A&M denied that request and terminated her employment.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the patrol officer’s ADA law suit. Among other things, the officer claimed that Florida A&M failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation, when it refused to extend her leave. The Eleventh Circuit rejected that argument: “While a leave of absence might be a reasonable accommodation in some cases … an accommodation is unreasonable if it does not allow someone to perform his or her job duties in the present or in the immediate future.” Luke, 2016 WL 740467 at *3 (emphasis added). The Court found that the six-month extension request did not satisfy the “present or immediate future” requirement.
The Luke decision provides an interesting contrast to the position taken by the EEOC regarding leave as a reasonable accommodation. On May 9, 2016, the EEOC published its position that employer-provided leave is a required accommodation under the ADA. That publication can be found here: EEOC ADA Leave Publication
The EEOC’s position avoids any reference to the Eleventh Circuit’s “present or immediate future” requirement. Instead, the EEOC seeks to shift the burden to employers to prove that a particular leave would an “undue burden.” Fortunately for employers, the Eleventh Circuit does not appear to be overly persuaded by the EEOC’s publication. In the same paper, the EEOC took the position that employers are required to place a disabled employee “in a vacant position for which he is qualified without requiring the employee to compete with other applicants for open positions.” The Eleventh Circuit rejected that position earlier this month in an opinion that I discussed here: Job-Competition Policy Can Be a Defense to ADA
Luke provides some guidance to employers — a six month leave request does not meet the “present or immediate future” requirement. For shorter leave requests, however, employers should proceed with caution, because the Eleventh Circuit has not provided guidance on the “immediate future” requirement.