The EEOC's 5 warnings about medical leaves and the ADA

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a public hearing this week on leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This is a smokin' hot subject, particularly in light of the ADA Amendments Act and its regulations, which expand the ADA's coverage to a dramatically larger population, the "new," more activist EEOC under Chair Jacqueline Berrien, and two recent multi-million-dollar settlements in leave-of-absence lawsuits brought by the EEOC against Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Supervalu, Inc. (Jewel-Osco).

John Hendrickson, the EEOC's Regional Attorney for Chicago, said that these settlements contained five lessons for employers, and that's what I'd like to talk about today because Hendrickson's points are consistent with warnings we've been giving to employers for quite some time.

1. An "inflexible period" of leave will not satisfy ADA requirements. Most of the employers I've worked with have very generous leave of absence policies -- one employer I know offers up to two years of leave for a single medical condition (and possibly more, if the employee contracts a new condition). However, many policies provide for "automatic" termination if the employee's leave exceeds the designated period of time....

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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