New EEOC Publication Clarifies Disability Accommodation Requirements

Author: Rena Pirsos, XpertHR Legal Editor

May 13, 2016

Responding to an all-time high rate of disability charges filed in fiscal year 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a new publication reiterating an employer's obligation, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to provide leave as a reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities.

The ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations that allow workers with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs, unless doing so would be an undue hardship for the employer. Despite this requirement, the EEOC has discovered a trend in ADA charges of employer policies that skirt this requirement by denying or restricting employees with disabilities from using leave as a reasonable accommodation.

The effect of these policies is that many employees who otherwise could have returned to work after taking extended leave as an accommodation end up being terminated, even though the employer would not have suffered an undue hardship due to the leave. Under current EEOC regulations, reasonable accommodations may include unpaid leave that lasts for a longer period of time than an employer allows for leave in general.

The EEOC's new publication aims to clarify one of the more confusing reasonable accommodations issues for employers by:

  • Answering common employer questions about disability-related leave requests;
  • Explaining how existing EEOC policies and guidance apply to specific situations;
  • Consolidating existing guidance on ADA and leave;
  • Addressing frequent issues such as the interactive process, maximum leave policies, "100 percent healed" policies and reassignment;
  • Illustrating existing legal requirements and obligations; and
  • Addressing undue hardship issues, including the amount and/or length of leave required, leave frequency and intermittent leave.

According to EEOC Chair Jenny Yang, "This resource document explains to employers and employees in a clear and practical way how to approach requests for leave as a reasonable accommodation so that employees can manage their health and employers can meet their business needs."