Employee medical leave issues involving rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) present some of the most complex and dangerous legal situations for employees. Employers need to methodically review the employee’s leave requests and rights under a succession of federal and state laws. This complexity was illustrated in a recent unpublished decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that involved a dispute over changes to an employee’s work schedule.
In Cooke v. Carpenter Technology Corp., the plaintiff worked a swing shift, alternating between days and nights. He was diagnosed with a series of psychiatric issues and claimed that he applied for intermittent leave. He alleged that the employer, however, placed him on continuous leave instead. After exhausting FMLA leave, his doctor requested a schedule modification limiting him to either day or night work. The employer agreed to implement the change, but only for 30 days. The employee resigned and sued, claiming FMLA interference and failure to accommodate under the ADA.
The district court granted summary judgment to the employer based on deposition testimony about the FMLA leave request and the plaintiff’s termination of the ADA accommodation process. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed both dismissals, remanding the case for a jury trial. The court said that a jury would need to determine which party ended the ADA accommodation process, given the employer’s offer of only a temporary schedule change. The employee’s affidavit regarding the FMLA leave request was adequate evidence for that claim to go to the jury.
When reviewing employee medical leave requests, the employer should clearly document the specific requests made by the employer. The ADA accommodation process should also be documented, and the employer should make efforts to consider all potential measures before concluding the process. While the employer in this case may prevail on the issues surrounding the FMLA request and the reasonableness of the shift change, avoiding unclear facts about the parties’ interactions can help avoid the uncertainty of a jury trial.