A new lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission raises concerns for employers with generous medical leave benefits. The EEOC recently sued UPS in federal court in Illinois under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of an employee with multiple sclerosis who was terminated after she failed to return from a year-long medical leave. UPS's policy calls for termination once the employee has exceeded the 12-month leave maximum. In this case, the EEOC contends that the employee could have returned to work within a few weeks of the expiration of the leave period.
In its suit, the EEOC claims that the UPS policy is inflexible and arbitrary because it does not provide for an individual accommodation analysis for the employee on leave. This position fails to take into account that the UPS leave policy is substantially more generous than most employers' practices. While the policy does set a maximum leave period, it is well in excess of FMLA requirements, or ADA leave obligations as applied in most circumstances.
If the EEOC persists with its position, the natural reaction of employers should be to eliminate both the maximum leave policy and the employee protections provided by the long period of job-protected leave. Employers would be fully justified under the ADA to perform the reasonable accommodation analysis much earlier (say after expiration of the 12-week FMLA leave period). Again, in most cases, granting leave anywhere near the UPS policy would be considered an unreasonable hardship on the employer.
The EEOC's position in this case appears to harm disabled employees by disallowing extremely generous leave policies that are accompanied by a set requirement for return. Employers forced to conduct the accommodation analysis after having already provided a year of leave would be better served by an earlier analysis of the employee's ability to return and their ability to accommodate the leave. Without the ability to legally separate employees, employers will not be willing to give employees this extended period of time to recover from their medical conditions.