Raymond Severson, plaintiff in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft Inc., has asked the United States Supreme Court to clarify how much leave is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Appeals Courts have issued conflicting opinions on the matter, which has created confusion for employers. The Supreme Court has not decided whether it will hear the case, but if it does, it would provide some much needed clarity on the issue.

Severson worked as an operations manager with Heartland Woodcraft Inc., a fabricator of retail display fixtures. In early June 2013, he took a twelve-week medical leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to deal with serious back pain. On his last day of leave under FMLA, he underwent back surgery and was unable to return to work for another two to three months.

Severson asked Heartland to continue his medical leave to allow him to fully recover from the back surgery. Heartland denied his request and terminated his employment as his FMLA entitlement had been exhausted.

Severson brought suit alleging discrimination in violation of the ADA by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation (i.e. a three-month leave of absence). The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, ruled that the ADA may require brief periods of medical leave, but long-term periods of leave are not required by law.

Severson disagrees, which is why he has petitioned the United States Supreme Court to make a final decision on the matter.

This 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision is inconsistent with most other courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) interpretation of the ADA. The EEOC has long held that putting a cap, even a high cap, on the amount of disability leave an employee can take violates the ADA. Nevertheless, the EEOC also recognizes that indefinite leave is not a requirement of the ADA.

So what should employers do until the United States Supreme Court makes a decision on whether to provide clarity to this issue?

There is currently no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. Employers should adopt a case-by-case analysis on when leave may be a reasonable accommodation when other types of leave have been exhausted. In some cases it may be a reasonable accommodation and in others it may not. Engage in the analysis and make a decision.

We know this area of the law can be confusing. That is why we are here. As an employer, please consider the Nevada Association of Employers your one-stop resource for all those problems facing employers in Nevada. Our goal is to make sure your business is abiding to federal and state law. For more information, contact the Nevada Association of Employers at (775) 329-4241 or visit our contact page today.