Last month, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a decision in favor of the employer in Roderick Billups v. Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, No. 17-10391, 2017 WL 4857430 (11th Cir. Oct. 26, 2017), continuing the trend of recent cases reaffirming that the ADA is not a leave statute. Among other things, the Eleventh Circuit held that an extended indefinite leave of absence with no clear timeline of when an employee can return to work and perform the essential functions of his or her job is not a reasonable accommodation. This aligns with the Seventh Circuit’s recent holding that “a long-term leave of absence cannot be a reasonable accommodation” under the ADA. (For a summary of that case, see our blog post here).
In Billups, the employee worked in a physically demanding position involving routine lifting and use of heavy weight tools. When Billups strained his shoulder, he took an extended six month leave per employer policy. When the six months was nearly up, the employer gave Billups notice that he would be terminated because he was unable to perform the essential functions of his job six months after the date of the injury. The employer also had a predetermination hearing before the termination, where Billups confirmed that he could not return to work after the six month period with or without reasonable accommodation.
In its holding, the Eleventh Circuit focused on the fact that Billups could not identify any reasonable accommodation that would have allowed him to perform the essential functions of his position. Billups could not point to any requested accommodation that would have allowed him to return “in the present or in the immediate future,” or that he would even be able to perform the essential functions of his position in the future. The court recognized that definite leaves of absence may be a reasonable accommodation in some cases, but Billups’s open-ended request for a leave of absence was indefinite and unreasonable.
Employers should use these new decisions to refocus on their accommodation policies and procedures. Take the time to ensure employees are requesting leave accommodations when needed and that when leave accommodations are made, they are accompanied by appropriate and timely medical certification. The employer and employee should then engage in an interactive process to ensure that all accommodations are being considered.