The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal law that, among other things, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations in certain situations. Due to this requirement, Districts have to be careful about what is being asked of it by their employees.
Districts need to listen to its employees when complaints are made about their back hurting, not being able to drive at night, not being able to hear or see while at work, or not being able to concentrate without their pet snake being beside them. What may be dismissed as a common complaint or odd request could cost the District tomorrow.
The best practice is to first ask, “How can the District help?”
That’s right – when an employee comes forward and says something to the effect of “I could really use [Insert Anything Here] because of my [Insert any Condition Here],” the District should immediately be wondering if the ADA applies. Worst-case scenario, the ADA did apply and the District ignored it.
The next most important thing to do is DOCUMENT. As soon as the employee has made the request – I could really use X – the District should note what the employee said and how the District responded.
Just because an employee has asked for a specific accommodation, “I could really use my pet snake at work to help me calm down,” does not mean the District acquiesces to the specific accommodation! (Lets be real, who wants to work when their co-worker has a pet snake slithering around!) However, the District must engage in an interactive process of talking it over with the employee and together deciding what is best for all involved.
Another interesting aspect of the “reasonable accommodation” provision of the ADA is its interplay with the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Since Districts are subject to the FMLA, a request for leave may need to be reviewed under both the FMLA and ADA. When an employee is out on FMLA leave, his or her disability could implicate the “covered employee” definition of the ADA. When this happens, the District should analyze and respond to such a request with care. While an employee may not make a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA at any point in time, the employee may realize in the future that he or she could have, long after the District is deemed to have denied a reasonable accommodation.
For example, when the District receives and grants an FMLA request for an employee to be out for the full 12 weeks, the District may be required to extend that leave another couple of weeks or months in order to provide a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, provided the employee provides the appropriate documentation for the request.
If an employee brings a doctor’s note that says the employee is almost ready to come back to work but really needs a couple more weeks off, alarms should go off. Even though an employee may have used all of his or her sick leave and personal leave, and has exhausted his or her FMLA leave, the District may be required to give the employee additional unpaid leave under the ADA’s “reasonable accommodation” provision. With appropriate support for the request, courts have found that an employer’s extension of leave is “reasonable” when the request is not for an indefinite time.
Determining whether an accommodation is reasonable under the ADA, and/or implicates the FMLA, is fact-intensive, potentially complex, and should be analyzed further by an attorney to avoid unintended consequences for the District. As always, the Attorneys at Stock and Leader, LLP are happy to further counsel you on the ADA, FMLA, or other leave laws to ensure you are doing everything you can to stay compliant.