When Maximum Leave Policies Are Illegal
Does your employer have a maximum leave policy? A maximum leave policy is when an employer sets a cap or a “maximum” on the amount of leave that you are permitted to take (e.g., six months). If you exceed that “maximum,” the maximum leave policy typically provides that your employer will automatically terminate your employment.
Maximum leave policies are not necessarily illegal. However, they are illegal if your employer inflexibly applies the policy regardless of the circumstances and the reason for your leave.
For instance, let’s say that you are on leave because of a disability and you are scheduled to return to work in a few days. But your doctor further extends your leave because he/she believes that you are still not physically ready to return to work. Rather than reasonably accommodating you, however, your employer contends that the company allows employees to take no more than six months of any type of leave (i.e., its maximum leave policy); that you are close to exhausting those six months of leave; and that your employment will be terminated if you do not return to work within one week. Such an ultimatum by your employer is unlawful under both federal and California law.
Instead, what your employer must do in the above-referenced circumstance is the following: If you are on a disability-related leave of absence, and you need additional unpaid leave beyond the maximum amount of leave allowed by your employer’s maximum leave policy, your employer must engage in the interactive process to find a reasonable accommodation for you rather than automatically terminating your employment. At the end of the interactive process, your employer must provide you with additional leave as a reasonable accommodation unless your employer can demonstrate (a) that providing additional leave will impose an undue hardship on your employer; or (b) that another effective accommodation would allow you to perform the essential functions of your position.
Indeed, rigidly applying maximum leave policies can translate into serious liability for employers. For instance, in 2017, UPS agreed to pay $2 million to nearly 90 current and former UPS employees to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”). Among other things, the EEOC alleged that UPS “maintained an inflexible leave policy, whereby the company fired disabled employees automatically when they reached 12 months of leave, without engaging in the interactive process required by law.” Read the full article here.
Similarly, in 2017, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Connections CSP, Inc. (“Connections”), a non-profit organization that provides health care, housing, and employment opportunities, alleging that CPS unlawfully denied reasonable accommodations to employees and fired them under an inflexible maximum leave policy. Read the full article here.
And just this past July, the EEOC simultaneously filed and settled a disability discrimination lawsuit with Memphis-based Mueller Industries, Inc. ("Mueller Industries"), a global metal goods manufacturer. Mueller Industries allegedly "terminated employees and/or failed to provide reasonable accommodations for those exceeding its maximum 180-day leave policy." Read the full article here.
If you have questions about your employer's maximum leave policy, call ((916) 612-0326) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) Finley Employment Law today. We serve clients throughout California, including Sacramento, Folsom, Roseville, Granite Bay, and Elk Grove.
The information in this blog post is for general informational and advertising purposes only and is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Instead, you should speak with a California employment attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.