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By: Christopher Curci
Employers need to be mindful of both the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when considering how to enforce their attendance policies. When an employee requests time off from work to attend to a medical condition, most employers will consider the request as one for medical leave under the FMLA. However, what happens if the employee has exhausted his or her FMLA leave or is not eligible for FMLA leave. Many employers will simply conclude that the employee is not eligible for FMLA leave without considering whether the ADA requires the leave as a reasonable accommodation. This common mistake often results in a violation of the ADA.
For example, in August 2018 the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Stanley Black & Decker for terminating an employee who took leave for medical treatments related to her cancer. To qualify for FMLA leave, the employee must have been employed with the company for at least one year and worked at least 1,250 hours during the prior year. In the Stanley Black & Decker lawsuit, the employee requesting leave had been employed for less than one year. When she asked Human Resources what her options were to receive her medical treatments, she was correctly told that she was not eligible for FMLA leave. However, Human Resources did not consider whether the requested leave was a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
What happened? The employee exceeded her allowed vacation days to undergo her cancer treatments and Stanley Black & Decker terminated her employment for excessive absenteeism in violation of its attendance policy. Then what happened? The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Stanley Black & Decker for violating the ADA.
Per the EEOC, Stanley Black & Decker’s attendance policy “does not provide exceptions for people who need leave as an accommodation to their disability.” EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, “Employers can run afoul of the ADA if they have a rigid attendance policy that penalizes employees taking leave as a reasonable accommodation for their disabilities.”
Inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan. The take away: when an employee requests leave due to a medical condition, employers must consider both the FMLA’s leave requirements and the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirements.
Christopher Curci practices Labor & Employment law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is a member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Labor and Employment Law National Practice Section. He represents employers in litigation and advises clients on all aspects of employment law. He can be reached at [email protected].