Medical leave is a legal issue that has led to many questions among companies about its guidelines and procedures.
More specifically, the issue arises as to how long companies have to give people for extended medical leave. If an employee has been on medical leave for a few weeks or months, and says he or she needs more time, companies at that point want to know if they can just replace the person.
The answer to this is definitive, according to Jon Hyman, an attorney specializing in employment law – no.
As part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to consider an unpaid leave of absence as part of making a reasonable accommodation, specified in the law. But how long can you give?
One legal case provides some guidance here, according to Hyman. The case is about a teacher who took a leave of absence to care for a husband with cancer. She initially took 12 weeks under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and extended it six months, and then the school extended it to one year.. When she did not return to work at the end of the year, the school terminated her employment.
The woman took legal action against the school, arguing that she had not been out a full year, but the court ruled in the school’s favor, saying that from the school’s point of view, her leave had become indefinite. The school’s action did not violate the ADA, the court ruled.
This ruling points out that the law does not allow for an indefinite leave of absence, Hyman says. In other words, the employee must provide a date of return.
But Hyman says that if a company is going to give an employee a leave as a reasonable accommodation, the company should have a dialogue with the employee about a return date, and be flexible to a degree. What is considered reasonable will depend on the nature of the business and how the work of the employee fits with the organization.
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