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Today’s Multi-Million Dollar Question: When Must an Employer Provide Leave as an ADA Reasonable Accommodation?

by Martha J. Cardi, J.D. and Megan G. Holstein, J.D.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide an employee who has a physical or mental disability, or a record of such a disability, with a workplace modification or adjustment – an accommodation – that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her position. In recent years, it has become clear that employers must consider a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation even when the employee has exhausted or does not qualify for other leaves of absence.

The issues are complex. Current, thorough guidance on how employers should provide leave as an accommodation is scarce or nonexistent. As a result, employers grapple with questions such as when and why a leave of absence is an appropriate accommodation, how long the leave should be, whether the employer can deny a leave request, and what are the employee’s rights upon return from leave.

To help employers and personnel managing absences for organizations, this paper synthesizes the existing guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and case law on leave as an accommodation to provide the best available insights, direction, and best practice suggestions for managing ADA leave of absence obligations.

In subsequent sections, this paper:

  • Explains the concepts of “reasonable” and “effective” to help practitioners determine whether a leave of absence is an appropriate accommodation and, if so, for how long;
  • Explores the employer’s sole reason to deny a leave of absence that would otherwise be a reasonable accommodation: that the leave will impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s operation;
  • Analyzes key cases and the EEOC’s perspective on leave of absence as an accommodation;
  • Provides the employer a simple, workable process for handling ADA-related leave requests in an effective and lawful manner – defining the “interactive process” with a best practice framework; and
  • Addresses an employee’s rights during and upon return from leave of absence.

The information and advice in this paper is offered as the most current and thorough reference for handling ADA-related leaves. It will ease the ADA compliance challenge and help employers improve their overall leave management and return-to-work processes for the benefit of their employees and their company.

To download the complete whitepaper, please visit Reed Group.

No Legal Advice. This white paper is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. This white paper is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinions. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this white paper without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

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