What Are Reasonable Accommodations for Disability Related Absences?

Posted on

August 30th, 2021


shutterstock_306793247 - CopyWhen an employee is absent on a frequent basis, many employers take steps to remediate the issue. If the problem continues, the employee may face disciplinary action. However, when the absences are due to a disability, employers need to take a different approach. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers clinical depression a disability. If an employee’s depression affects their ability to come into work, employers need to develop a plan to accommodate the employee without hurting office morale. This can prove even more nuanced when some or all of your workforce are remote.

Balancing Accommodations and Attendance

A common issue employers face: when an employee requests more time off after exhausting their family medical leave and/or short-term disability leave. Numerous court cases show it is reasonable for employers to expect their employees to attend work on a regular basis. However, it is less clear what qualifies as reasonable accommodations for the employee to return to work.
A recent court case shed some light on this issue. An employee with depression and anxiety requested flexible start times as well as a 10-minute break for every two hours of work. The employee suffered from panic attacks and requested the accommodations to help calm down after anxiety attacks. The Court of Appeals found these accommodations were not reasonable for numerous reasons:

  • The employee worked in a customer service position requiring them to answer phone calls; the court determined regular attendance was necessary to complete the main function of this job
  • The court determined flexible start times with planned breaks was not reasonable because the employee’s panic attacks were unpredictable
  • The court found it was not reasonable for the employee to request more time off beyond their exhausted FMLA and disability leave because the employee’s physician could not give a specific time the employee could return to work

Employers need to evaluate each employee’s request with care before making a decision about accommodations. In the example above, the court provided some guidelines for where to draw the line, but each case is different. To learn more about absence management, contact the experts at Actec.