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A leave of absence can qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, but how long should employers consider granting such leaves? In Echevarria v. Astrazeneca Pharmaceutical, LP, 33 A.D. Cases 673 (1st Cir. 2017), some practical guidance emerges on this issue. The case involved a Pharmaceutical Sales Specialist named Taymari Delgado Echevarria (hereinafter Delgado) who developed a small brain tumor in November 2010, followed by recurrent depression and anxiety.
On December 12, 2011, Delgado’s physician, Dr. Sanchez, recommended that Delgado take time off work for reasons of severe depression and anxiety. She eventually received short term disability benefits retroactive to December 12, 2011. Those benefits continued until March 11, 2012, but were terminated because Delgado failed to submit adequate documentation of her disability. Human Resources then wrote to Delgado and advised her that she must return to work by March 22, 2012. The letter made clear that if she failed to return to work, Delgado would be considered to have abandoned her employment.
Delgado did not return to work on March 22, 2012, so the HR rep offered her a severance package if she were to resign. That conversation set Delgado back and caused her condition to relapse, according to Dr. Sanchez. Astrazeneca then extended Delgado’s leave until April 29, 2012. Another letter was sent to Delgado advising that she must return to work by May 17, 2017 or be considered to have resigned.
Delgado did not return to work on May 17, 2012. Dr. Sanchez wrote to the company HR rep stating that Delgado would need another 12 months of leave before she could return to work. Eventually Delgado was terminated in mid-July 2012. Delgado refused to accept a severance package and sued for discrimination under the ADA. She argued that her request for leave constituted a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The Court said:
The combined effect of two aspects of this case convince us that Delgado has failed to show that her request for twelve more months of leave was a reasonable accommodation. First, it seems doubtful that Delgado shouldered her burden of showing that the requested accommodation would have enabled her to perform the essential functions of her position. Second, Delgado has not shown that additional leave for this duration is a facially reasonable accommodation. . .
In an interesting opinion, the Court considered the effect of such a request on the operations of an employer. “Compliance with a request for a lengthy period of leave imposes obvious burdens on an employer, not the least of which entails somehow covering the absent employee’s job responsibilities during the employee’s extended leave.”
This case makes sense. While it does not answer what the outcome would have been had a shorter period of time been requested, it does provide useful guidance for employers in requiring the employee to show that the requested accommodation would allow the employee to perform the job and is a reasonable request. Certainly a request for three months of leave would be considered by most courts to be reasonable, just as a request for one year would be considered unreasonable. The gray area is in between the three month period and one year, and the specific facts will always be critical in determining the outcome.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.