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Gavel on labor law document

Employers will not be forced to provide an extended medical leave of absence under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) now that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review an appeals court’s ruling in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc.

As the website HR Dive explains, this is good news for employers.

“When the 7th Circuit issued its opinion in Severson, employers were thrilled, hoping that the ADA leave tide was finally shifting,” author Kate Tornone wrote. “The ADA certainly may require short leaves as a reasonable accommodation, the 7th Circuit said in Severson; but ‘[l]ong-term medical leave is the domain of the FMLA,’ the three-judge panel wrote.”

Learn more about reasonable accommodation at NJBIA’s Workplace Accommodations seminar April 24

Other laws, like the Family and Medical Leave Act, are still in force, but after the protected leave granted under those laws runs out, employees cannot turn to the ADA for more.

In this case, Severson asked Heartland to continue his medical leave after he had exhausted his FMLA entitlement. The company denied his request and terminated his employment, but invited him to reapply when he was medically cleared to work. About three months later, Severson’s doctor lifted all restrictions and cleared him to resume work. Instead of reapplying, however, Severson sued, asking the court to expand the definition of reasonable accommodation.

The circuit court declined to do so.  According to its ruling: “The term ‘reasonable accommodation’ is expressly limited to those measures that will enable the employee to work. An employee who needs long-term medical leave cannot work and thus is not a ‘qualified individual’ under the ADA.”

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