Inflexible Leave Policy in Labor Contract Trumps ADA Duty to Accommodate

To grant an employee more medical leave than the maximum set out in the collective bargaining agreement is an undue hardship under the ADA, according to a decision earlier this month by a federal district court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  
The labor contract covering the plaintiff’s employment granted employees up to 90 days of sick leave, after which an employee either had to return to work, be transferred to a light duty position or resign and file for permanent disability.
After taking all of the sick leave granted him under the labor contract, the plaintiff requested an additional week of medical leave. His employer denied the request and terminated plaintiff’s employment. Rejecting the claim that his termination violated the ADA, the court said that allowing the plaintiff to have additional leave would have violated the labor contract and was unreasonable. As a result, the plaintiff was not a qualified individual with a disability.
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To ensure fair and uniform treatment, labor contracts include many terms and conditions of employment that apply to all bargaining unit members, without exception. An employer’s obligation under the ADA to provide a reasonable accommodation is, in effect, a duty to make an exception in some situations. The ADA itself provides no guidance to employers about how to reconcile these apparently conflicting obligations. This court’s decision reconciles them by holding that the inflexible leave policy (aka maximum leave policy) in the labor contract trumps the ADA-imposed duty to consider granting additional leave as a reasonable accommodation.  However, just as courts have split on the issue of whether an inflexible leave policy applicable to non-union employees violates the ADA, other courts may reconcile an employer’s ADA and labor contract obligations differently than this decision.