When is a disabled worker’s leave request unreasonable?

Senior Electrician George Foster had a circulation problem that affected his legs. He walked painfully with the aid of a cane and was classified as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
By Raymond Dreyfack June 1, 1999

Senior Electrician George Foster had a circulation problem that affected his legs. He walked painfully with the aid of a cane and was classified as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

One day he approached Maintenance Supervisor Frank Hanley’s desk. “Frank, I’d like to put in for a medical leave.”

“How come? Will you need an operation?”

“No, but there’s a new kind of therapy I want to take that’s been fairly successful with problems like mine.”

“Sounds great. How long did you have in mind?”

“Six months.”

Hanley frowned and gave a low whistle. “I can swing 3 mo alright, but six would take us right into our peak period.”

“Three won’t be enough. The therapy’s a kind of program that runs 6 mo.”

“I really wish I could accommodate you, George, but I have to think of the needs of the department too.”

Foster said, “I’m entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.”

“I realize that, but the ADA doesn’t apply to extended or indeterminate leave if it imposes a hardship on the employer.”

“Suddenly I’m indispensable?”

Hanley grinned. “Not exactly, but you have specialized skills that can’t be duplicated by anyone else.”

“You can train someone, can’t you?”

“Maybe so. But then what? After weeks of training I couldn’t demote or fire the guy.”

Foster’s lips tightened. “I’m still putting in for that leave.”

Question: In Hanley’s place would you okay the leave? Can Foster force him to grant it?

Todman’s verdict: “This is a tough one,” Plant Engineer Mark Todman told Hanley. “Let’s double check thoroughly. If you’re absolutely convinced no one could fill in for George, and that his extended absence would disrupt the operation too much during the busy period, you’ll have no choice but to deny it.”

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