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Is ADA Interactive Process Required For Employee Who Did Not Request Accommodation?
March 3, 2014
The 6th Circuit recently ruled that an employer was not required to engage in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) interactive process with an employee who was terminated for failing to request an extension of leave under the leave policy of the company or to propose any other accommodation.
Siegel-Robert, Inc. (SRI), maintains a leave of absence policy stating that an employee will be terminated if he is unable to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodation, for a period of six months. An employee subject to termination under the policy may request an extension of leave if the request is received before the termination would take effect and is supported by appropriate medical documentation.
Steven Cash worked for SRI. In early 2009, his doctor placed him on a six-month medical leave. The doctor was scheduled to reevaluate Cash four days before he was subject to termination under the leave policy. Without requesting an extension of leave, however, Cash rescheduled the appointment for three days after the deadline. When he met with his doctor, he was released to return to work with restrictions.
Upon presenting the note from his doctor to SRI, Cash learned that he had been terminated three days earlier in accordance with the leave policy. He left the plant without proposing or requesting any accommodation that would allow him to return to his job and without asking for a transfer to a less-demanding job that would have satisfied his work restrictions. Moreover, he did not reapply for employment, despite his eligibility to do so. Instead, he filed a lawsuit under the ADA.
The Decision of the Court
Cash first claimed that SRI violated the ADA by failing to accommodate his return-to-work restrictions. The 6th Circuit—which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee—rejected his claim because rather than asking for an accommodation, he simply left the building after learning he was terminated.
Even assuming that the note from the doctor was a tacit request for an accommodation, the court nevertheless concluded that SRI was not required to engage in an "interactive process" and evaluate potential accommodations because Cash did not request an extension before his leave expired.
The 6th Circuit also found that Cash was unable to establish a claim of disability discrimination. He argued that SRI was required to reconsider its termination decision when he presented his work release. The court disagreed, noting that he failed to present his note before the expiration of his medical leave or request any other form of accommodation.
Significantly, the court also noted that if Cash wanted SRI to reconsider its decision, he could have sought reemployment, but rather than doing so, he filed a lawsuit. Cash v. Siegel-Robert, Inc., 2013 WL 6231791 (6th Cir., 2013).
This case highlights the importance of having a leave policy that complies with the ADA and specifically recognizes that additional leave may sometimes be available as a reasonable accommodation. In addition, it is helpful to have proof that you effectively communicated the policy to employees. Here, Cash received a copy of the policy, so he could not claim he was ignorant of the proper procedures.
You should also keep in mind that the validity of an ADA claim is very fact-specific. The failure of claims does not represent the blanket approval of the court of refusing to discuss potential accommodations.
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