Ditch those inflexible leave policies, would you already? #FMLA #ADA #EEOC

Yesterday, with my good buddies Casey Sipe and Jessica Miller-Merrell from Blogging4Jobs.com, I presented a webinar on the interplay between the Family and Medical Leave Act, state workers’ compensation laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The key word in the last sentence being “interplay.”

(By the way, if you want to snag a copy of that webinar, drop me a line, and I’ll see what I can do about getting you a copy).

One point we emphasized during the webinar is that, for employees taking FMLA leave for their own serious health condition, companies need to have a plan to address the FMLA implications and the potential interplay — there’s that word again — with the ADA. Because, remember, leave may be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

So, I must admit that I smirked right after the webinar ended when I read this press release from the EEOC , in which it announced that it was suing a disability support services company for violating the ADA. Because, of course. Here’s the lowdown:

“According to the EEOC’s suit, ValleyLife fired employees with disabilities rather than provide them with reasonable accommodations due to its inflexible leave policy. The policy compelled the termination of employees who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave to which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).”

Now, mind you, this is just the EEOC’s side of the story. Indeed, I have no idea whether this employer, whose business is to provide disability support services, actually violated the ADA. For example, the ADA only covers employees that have an actual “disability,” a record of a disability, or are “regarded as” disabled.  So, while an FMLA “serious health condition” may also qualify as an ADA “disability,” the two don’t always align. (You can read up on that here).

Also, under the ADA, the onus is on the employee to inform the employer that the employee not only has a disability, but requires an accommodation. However, where an employee satisfies those ADA prerequisites, the employer must engage in a good-faith interactive dialogue with the employee to discuss the array of reasonable accommodations that may apply.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ADA accommodations, your company (i.e., HR, supervisors, managers, etc.) should always have that ADA mindset when confronted with FMLA issues involving an employee’s own serious health condition.

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