Disability Accommodation & Leaves of Absence
Disability law is complex and even careful employers can step on landmines leading to costly and time consuming litigation. Employers that mishandle leaves and disability accommodation requests are left vulnerable to government audits, fines and penalties, as well as civil lawsuits that can result in double or triple back pay. As a result, it is important for employers to properly understand how to effectively handle requests for accommodations or leaves. Accordingly, many employers benefit from having access to real time legal advice when faced with complicated questions or issues. Our firm not only trains employers on how to properly navigate the complexities of disability law; we also offer real time guidance and advice for employers faced with accommodation or leave requests.
The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that no employer shall discriminate against any qualified person with a disability. In addition to the obvious prohibition against discrimination, the ADA can require employers to take proactive steps to accommodate disabled employees. Indeed, more than most other federal and state discrimination laws, the ADA places special emphasis on the procedural steps that employers must undertake to ensure compliance. For example, the ADA requires that employers engage in an interactive process with employees who disclose a disability and request an accommodation. The employer and employee are obligated to work together to identify the problems with the current job situation, analyze the employee’s abilities and limitations, and determine accommodations that would allow the employee to perform essential job functions. Oftentimes, the employer must also conduct a complicated analysis to assess whether potential accommodations constitute an undue burden or involve improper changes to the essential functions of the employee’s job. An employer’s failure to engage in an interactive dialogue, or to apply the proper legal standards as part of this dialogue, can expose the employer to liability.
Employers face a variety of obligations to provide leaves of absence in specific situations. For example, under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), covered employers are required to provide employees with up to twelve weeks of leave every year to deal with personal or family medical issues and to restore employees to their jobs when they return from protected leaves. Other federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, also can obligate employers to provide leaves in certain situations. Further complicating matters, many states also have additional leave guarantees. For example, under Massachusetts law an employer is required to provide an employee with up to 15 days of leave to deal with domestic violence or abuse. Under New Hampshire law, employers must allow employees to take a leave of absence for the period of temporary physical disability resulting from pregnancy, childbirth, or related physical conditions. Likewise, New Hampshire employers are often obligated to reinstate employees who seek to return to work within eighteen months after sustaining a workplace injury. Other states have additional leave protections which can overlap with federal law and may prove confusing to employers. As such, requests for a leave must be analyzed and administered carefully to ensure that the employer is in compliance with all applicable laws. Additionally, legal guidance can be important if employers want to address suspected fraud or abuse related to employee leaves.
Wise, Effective, and Efficient
If your organization might benefit from proactive training, real time assistance, or vigorous litigation defense, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Wyatt & Associates. Our firm routinely works with employers of all sizes to assist with the proper handling of employee disability accommodation and leave requests. Calling upon our significant industry experience, we help employers to comply with disability and leave laws in a way that does not undermine their business.