So, why the different result? There may be slight differences between the scenarios, but are they sufficiently distinguishable to explain why one employer was left facing a trial and the other was granted a dismissal? To a certain extent, it depends on the judicial officer making the determination and whether they tend to be pro-employer or employee. It is similar to asking whether you will be pulled over for speeding if you are traveling at 9 mph over the speed limit. It depends on the officer who clocks your speed. Not violating the speed limit is the safest approach.
Accommodation issues under the ADA are some of the most difficult facing employers today and the issue regarding extensions of leaves is one of the most frustrating. It would be so much easier if there was a bright line, a rule that the human resources professional could rely on, like two extensions not to exceed six months beyond the FMLA leave of absence. Unfortunately, just like the speed limit that you can simply obey to avoid a ticket, there is only one decision that will prevent ADA claims: continue to grant leave extensions. But, this is not always a practical choice or a decision that satisfies business needs.
Anytime you are faced with an ADA issue, it is wise to consult with an experienced employment attorney, like the author. Being guided through the maze of choices is far more cost effective than potentially facing a trial later.
This article was written by Claudia D. Orr, an experienced employment attorney at Plunkett Cooney who can be reached at 313-983-4863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.