Last year, we reported a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision establishing a rule that leave of more than a few weeks in duration falls outside employers’ reasonable accommodation obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. established this new rule, defining such leave as outside the scope of the ADA and not requiring employers to demonstrate that such leave presents an undue hardship.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined review of this decision. As a result, the Seventh Circuit case now stands in opposition to four other federal appellate circuits and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which treat leave in the same manner as any other requested medical accommodation. Employers in areas of the U.S. where this issue has not been litigated at the appellate level (including North Carolina and South Carolina in the Fourth Circuit and Georgia in the Eleventh Circuit) should keep abreast of developments in this area.
The Seventh Circuit decision means that once FMLA leave expires, if the employee is medically unable to return to work within a very short time period, the employer has no additional federal legal obligation to provide additional leave or hold the employee’s job open. It avoids a situation where the employer risks an ADA claim if it rejects the employee’s requests for extended post-FMLA leave.