Earlier this month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) conducted a hearing on issues surrounding the use of leave as a reasonable accommodation. According to the EEOC, a period of leave for treatment or recovery is often the reasonable accommodation that permits a person with a disability to remain gainfully employed. EEOC Commissioner Victoria Lipnic stated that, "Managing situations where employees need leave for medical conditions is one of the most vexing issues for both employers and employees."
Many employers have policies that permit employees to take leaves of absences for situations involving their own medical conditions. For employers with 50 or more employees, this often is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (requiring 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period). Employers not covered by FMLA also frequently provide a fixed amount of time for which an employee can be absent due to a medical condition.
But what if the employee needs more than the time permitted by the employer's policy? What if the employee needs more time than the 12 weeks provided by the FMLA? Can an employer direct the employee to return to work because the leave has expired?
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