CASE: Three additional weeks of leave was reasonable


Don’t jump to termination after 12 weeks of FMLA leave

Tracey worked for the company for a few years before she began experiencing significant psychiatric health challenges. She was hospitalized for five days one June and again four months later for four weeks, returning in November, when she was promoted. 

Six months later, however, Tracey was once again hospitalized and needed an additional six to eight weeks off for outpatient treatment.  She had an estimated return date of August 10. Her FMLA leave, however, expired the week of July 20. When told this by Sabrina in HR, Tracey responded that her return date was still August 10 and asked how this affected her job. Her question went unanswered until two weeks later, when she was terminated.

When Tracey responded to Sabrina about this and asked that the decision be reconsidered, she was told that when she was released from care, they could talk about it. That conversation never took place, but Tracey did file suit, including a claim that the employer violated the ADA.

In deciding for Tracey, the court indicated that a reasonable jury could find that the company discriminated against Tracy by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation of an additional few weeks of leave for her disability.

The employer tried to argue that leave prevented Tracey from in-person attendance, which was an essential function of her job. The court didn’t buy it. Tracey sought a temporary accommodation to return to the attendance requirement once leave ended.

The court also pointed out that nearly one in every five Americans has a disability, yet only 41% of people with disabilities between the ages of 21 and 64 were employed. Although physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, these numbers reflect the harsh reality that people with disabilities, as a group, occupy an inferior status in our society, and are severely disadvantaged economically.

Key to remember: If an employee exhausts all 12 weeks of FMLA leave for his or her own condition, additional leave can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Suboh v. Abacus Corporation, District Court of Ohio, No. 2:20-cv-6295, October 18, 2022.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.


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