Medical leave as a reasonable accommodation

We often receive calls from employees and employers about unpaid medical leave from work. Callers want to know whether an employee who has a serious health condition under the FMLA, but who cannot return to work after 12 weeks of FMLA leave, has any additional legal protections. The answer is that it depends. Many court cases recognize that finite and short additional periods of unpaid medical leave beyond the 12 weeks afforded by the FMLA can be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Employers who receive requests for additional unpaid medical leave should ask appropriate questions to determine the length of additional leave the employee is seeking, the likelihood that the additional leave will enable the employee to return to work, and how other employees who require leave for reasons unrelated to health or disability are treated. In the run of cases, finite and short periods of additional medical leave are a reasonable form of accommodation, particularly when the prognosis for recovery is favorable. This means that in many situations, an employer will be required to grant the request for additional unpaid medical leave, provided it does not impose or create an undue hardship. Of course, every case depends on its unique facts.