Medical leaves of absence continue to confound employers. Under the ADA, an employer must consider an unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation. An unpaid leave of some limited duration, however, will be reasonable in most cases.
Kirsten Williams worked as a Customer Service Representative for AT&T Mobility Services. She also suffered from depression and anxiety attacks. Those issues caused frequent absences from work for the duration of her employment, from 2007 through 2014. Those absences resulted in disciplinary warnings each year.
An employer is not required to keep an employee’s job open indefinitely. …
In the present case, AT&T provided Williams with retroactively approved STD leave and allowed her to retain her position for many months before terminating her in July 2014. Williams submitted an evaluation from Thompson that provided a return date of August 15, 2014, but Thompson stated that this date was only an estimate. Given that Williams had a history of taking leaves, that her condition failed to improve during those leaves, and that she repeatedly failed to return to work by dates on which her treatment providers had previously estimated that she would be able to return, requiring AT&T to grant further leave as an accommodation would be unreasonable.
Once you deny an accommodation request, you should prepare to defend that decision before a judge and/or jury. Will that judge or jury view your actions as “reasonable” or “unreasonable”? If the answer is the latter, then you might want to reconsider your decision, until your actions tip the scale the other way. The Williams case presents a good example of an employer that tried to work with an employee, and was rewarded for it in her inevitable lawsuit.