Maureen HeffernanOn May 9, 2016 the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a resource document that addresses workplace leave policies in the context of an employer’s duty to accommodate employees with disabilities.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state civil rights laws, including the Iowa Civil Rights Act, require that employers provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship on the employer’s operations or finances.

The EEOC’s new document entitled, “Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” which can be accessed on the EEOC’s website, reminds employers that workplace policies denying or limiting the use of leave may be subject to challenge if they unlawfully restrict the rights of disabled employees.  Existing EEOC regulations already provide that leave, even leave that exceeds a company’s leave policy, may be a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee if it would result in the employee returning to work and performing the essential functions of his or her job.

The EEOC also cautions against the automatic application of “maxi­mum leave” or “100 percent healed” policies without first engaging in the proper analysis and interactive process with an employee who may be a candidate for extended leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Workplace leave policies, and the individual situations that arise under those policies, can be challenging for employers to manage, even more so when various legal obligations coincide. In addition to the ADA and similar state nondiscrimination laws, an employer may also need to consider state workers’ compensation laws as well as state and/or federal family and medical leave statutes when evaluating how to apply company leave policies.

If you have any questions about this recent guidance from the EEOC or about how your leave or return-to-work policies may need to be revised in order to meet existing legal standards, you may contact attorney Maureen Heffernan at 252-0020 or email Maureen at: