Most federal courts have long held that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require employers to grant indefinite leave as a form of reasonable accommodation. Last month, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals extended this reasoning to an employee's request that she be relieved from performing certain job functions for an indefinite period of time following surgery.
In Robert v. Board of County Commrs. of Brown County, the plaintiff was a parole officer who needed surgery for joint problems. At the end of her FMLA leave, her doctor certified that she could return to desk work, but could not engage in field visits and supervision for an undetermined period of time. The County accommodated her request for a limited period of time, but eventually terminated her employment because she was unable to perform essential job functions. She sued, claiming failure to provide required ADA accommodations.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court concluded that the ADA does not require indefinite reallocation of essential job functions as a form of reasonable accommodation. When the employee's only suggested accommodation is indefinite removal of essential functions, the court stated that this is unreasonable as a matter of law. The temporary voluntary accommodation did not create any obligation on the County to continue this practice.
Most federal courts have made similar determinations with regard to indefinite leave or job modifications. The EEOC has taken the position that indefinite leave can be a form of reasonable accommodation absent an employer demonstrating unreasonable hardship. This position has not been accepted by the vast majority of courts to consider the issue.