ADA leave requests may be verbal or written, just not telepathic

aquaman-oSorry, Aquaman. You’re SOL, son.

But Aquaman does love to get down to MGMT, I’m told. So here you go…

Same goes for the plaintiff in this case — the telepathy part, not MGMT — in which the employer had a leave policy which dictated that employees may take up to six months of leave if unable to perform his/her job with or without reasonable accommodation. After that, it’s sayonara, unless prohibited by law, or if the employee requests a leave extension.

In this particular case, the plaintiff was out on leave for back surgery. The plaintiff’s doctor told him that he probably wouldn’t return to work for a year. However, the plaintiff never informed either the employer or the third-party administrator. 

The plaintiff did not request to extend his medical leave of absence in accordance with company policy. He also did not ask to return to work in a different position because he knew his doctor had not released him to work. 

Ultimately, the plaintiff’s doctor did clear him to return to work, at which time the plaintiff returned with note in hand. Unfortunately, he came back three days after his six month leave expired. His company had already followed its own policy and terminated the plaintiff immediately after he failed to return at the six-month mark. 

The Court ruled in favor of the employer on the plaintiff’s failure-to-accommodate claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the employer followed its own policy and was under no obligation to reconsider its decision when the plaintiff reappeared in the workplace three days after the six month deadline. 

So, learn from this case and practice two takeaways:

  1. Have an ADA policy that emphasizes that the onus is on the employee to communicate the need for leave, or some other form of accommodation under the ADA.

  2. Stick to the policy and limit the number of exceptions. Exceptions water down the policy and lead to lawsuits.