Dear HR Executive,
It seems entirely reasonable for an employer to terminate employees who exceed a certain amount of medical leave. After all, you can’t be expected to carry people who're unable to work on the payroll indefinitely.
But if the EEOC has its way, you might be violating the ADA if you did get rid of such employees.
The federal employment law watchdog recently filed lawsuits against two employers that applied policies calling for the termination of employees after one year’s absence on medical leave.
The EEOC said “arbitrary deadlines” for returning to work after medical treatment unfairly keep disabled employees from working.
And just last month, another employer, Sears Roebuck, settled a similar suit against it for $6.2 million -- the biggest settlement ever of an ADA lawsuit by the EEOC. The Sears suit was about what the agency called an "inflexible" policy on the exhaustion of workers comp leave.
Maybe the EEOC is right on this point. Or maybe the EEOC is reinterpreting and unilaterally extending the scope of the ADA, which specifies that its protection extends only to employees who are able to fulfill their job duties with or without accommodation.
Are employees who can’t work due to long illness or effects of injury “able to fulfill their job duties”? It looks as if we’ll have to wait for the courts to say. We’ll keep you posted on these cases.
Meantime, you may want to check your disability leave policies and see whether they give you and line managers some flexibility to negotiate employees’ return-to-work dates.
HR Rapid Learning Center