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Endless Winter? Endless Disability Accommodations?

       Until recently, it seemed that winter would last forever in Central Wisconsin.   Similarly, it can seem that there is no end in sight concerning an employer’s legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled employee.

       But in March 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it will not review whether a former operations manager at a Wisconsin manufacturer of retail displays should have been allowed to take two to three months off for recovery from back surgery, following exhaustion of his FMLA leave.  The unpaid leave would have been in addition to 12 weeks of leave that the employee took prior to back surgery.  The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place a September 2017 ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Wisconsin) that a Wisconsin employer did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to let the employee take the additional leave beyond FMLA leave.

       Just how long an employee should be allowed to remain on leave to recover from a disabling condition that prevents him from performing his job is a question that has plagued employers nationwide.  The issue frequently requires employers to navigate between the  Americans with Disabilities Act and the FMLA.  The point for Wisconsin employers is that federal law does not require endless leave in all situations.  However, Wisconsin employers should also consider the requirements of the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act in considering reasonable accommodation requests.  The WFEA  may be is interpreted more liberally than the ADA when it comes to leave requests as a reasonable accommodation.

       Wisconsin winters are not endless; they only seem that way.  Similarly, an employer’s need to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability with additional leave is not endless in all situations.  The applicable case is Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc.

    By: Attorney Brian Formella
    Stevens Point Area Human Resources Association