The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against employees who have a disability; it also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a reasonable accommodation as “any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” The EEOC recently issued a publication that specifically referred to granting leave to an employee as a means of providing reasonable accommodation.
It is important to note that granting any kind of reasonable accommodation, including leave, is not required if an employer can show that providing the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its operations or finances. In addition, employers do not need to grant paid leave beyond what an employer provides as a part of its paid leave policies. However, many employers automatically refuse to grant leave due to internal policies that prohibit it - such as not allowing leave during the first six-months of employment, if the employee has exhausted the number of days normally granted in a year, if the employee has exhausted FMLA leave, or if the employee works less than 30 hours per week. Employers should be aware that even if the granting of leave would not be permitted under internal policies or handbook language, the employer must go through the analysis to see if it would be reasonable to grant the leave to a disabled individual so long as doing so would not create an undue hardship. A failure to do so, when an employee requests leave as an accommodation, might subject the employer to a charge of discrimination against a disabled individual.