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Q: How long does an employer have to accommodate an employee’s disability in the form of a leave of absence?
A: The law in most jurisdictions is unclear. In fact, in most jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, there is no bright line rule as to the length of leave time that is reasonable under the ADA. Typically courts look at the surrounding circumstances to determine whether the amount of time off is a “reasonable accommodation” and have held that leaves longer than three months were required in some circumstances as a reasonable accommodation.
Given this lack of certainty, employers are left with the daunting task of determining how much leave is “reasonable,” thus forcing many employers to typically extend leaves beyond what they may believe is proper. To add to the uncertainty, the EEOC, which is the employee’s first pit stop in bringing an ADA claim, has taken the position that a two-to-three month leave, or longer may be reasonable. Moreover, state laws protecting disabled individuals, such, for example, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, may provide for even greater protections to the employee.
A recent Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals case, however, has provided some concrete direction, at least to employers with employees located in Illinois, Wisconsin, or Indiana, regarding the amount of leave required as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.