Sometimes employers assume that if they provide all the medical leave required under the FMLA or CFRA, they may terminate an employee upon expiration of the leave. However, determining whether a disabled employee has exhausted all available leave should not be the only inquiry employers engage in before terminating employees with medical issues. The law is clear that extending a leave of absence beyond the time provided by required leave laws such as the FMLA and CFRA may be a reasonable accommodation of a disability under the ADA or FEHA.
Employees must provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations if doing so will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job without undue hardship on the employer. One reasonable accommodation may be some additional time off of work, even after statutorily required leave has expired. On the other hand, the law is also clear that employers are not required to provide an "indefinite" leave of absence. Especially if an employee provides a doctor's note extending leave with an end date in sight, which may be viewed as a request for accommodation, employers should engage in the interactive process with employees to determine if the request for additional unpaid time off can be accommodated before making a termination decision. The upshot for employers is to have a procedure in place to ensure that potential disability accommodation requirements are considered before employees unable to return from medical leave are terminated.