An article from Bloomberg reports that United Parcel Service recently agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act: UPS to Pay $1.7M
The EEOC filed a nationwide lawsuit challenging UPS’s policy of discharging workers who could not return from medical leave after 12 months. The case was filed in Illinois, so it is not directly applicable to cases filed in Alabama. Nevertheless, it appears to demonstrate the dangers of inflexible medical leave policies. While I have not delved into the details of the UPS lawsuit, the Bloomberg article suggests that all employees were terminated after 12 months of medical leave. Potentially, UPS should have engaged in the reasonable accommodation process and determined if employees could return to work, for example, in 13 months. Clearly, the EEOC would view an additional month of medical leave as a reasonable accommodation. Indeed, the EEOC’s resource document on employer-provided leave supports that position: EEOC: Employer-Provided Leave
Inflexible leave policies certainly pose dangers for employers under the ADA. Thus, each request for leave should be dealt with on an individualized basis. In the Eleventh Circuit, if an employee has exhausted their employer-provided leave, and cannot return in the “present or immediate future,” an indefinite extension of leave is not required under the ADA. I previously wrote about this issue here: ADA: Indefinite Extension of Leave Not Required. In summary, inflexible policies on return from leave can lead to liability, but employers are not required to provide indefinite leave as a reasonable accommodation.