California Disability Law Does Not Require Providing Employees With Indefinite Leave

800px-CleancubicleSouth20050109A retail store chain was not required to hold a sales associate’s job indefinitely to satisfy the Fair Employment and Housing Act’s reasonable accommodation requirement, the California Court of Appeal recently ruled. The opinion illustrates that employers may have to provide leave of some duration as a reasonable accommodation, but there are limits as to the lengths the law requires an employer to go in accommodating an employee with a disability.

The employee in the case was Hourvash Dezham, a sales associate at Macy’s, where she’d worked since 1997. In 2010, the employee was injured on the job, breaking one of her toes. After seven weeks, Dezham returned to work, but with modified duties to keep her off her feet. Sometime later, the employer purchased a scooter for the employee to use at work. By May 2011, however, the employee remained injured, and her doctor required her to take leave again. Eight months later, Macy’s terminated her employment.

That led to the employee’s lawsuit. Among other claims, the employee accused Macy’s of engaging in disability discrimination when it chose to terminate her in 2012. The court, however, was not persuaded. The FEHA does not require employers to provide employees with disabilities with unlimited leave in order to satisfy the obligation of reasonable accommodation. While making a reasonable accommodation may often involve giving an employee a finite period of leave, the law still recognizes that there are limits regarding “how far an employer must go in granting medical leave.”

From the time of the injury until the termination of Dezham’s employment, Macy’s made reasonable accommodations based upon the information it received from the employee’s doctors. The employer gave Dezham medical leave and then gave her a temporary reassignment to a different department that offered seated work, then provided her with a scooter to return to her department, and then provided her with more leave after her doctor told her to stop working again.

The employer’s decision to terminate only occurred after the employee’s doctor stated that Dezham was not ready to return to work, and he could not provide a timeframe regarding when she would be physically ready. As an employee accusing your employer of a failure to accommodate your disability, the FEHA requires you to prove that you have a recognized disability, that you are “qualified to perform the essential functions” of your job, and that your employer did not reasonably accommodate your disability. Since Dezham could not come to work, and would not be able to do so for the foreseeable future, she was not qualified to perform the essential functions of her job, and she could not go forward on her failure to accommodate claim.

Disability laws, including both the Americans With Disabilities Act and FEHA, impose considerable requirements on employers, but those requirements come with limits. Understanding exactly how far the law requires an employer to go to accommodate an employee is integral to any disability discrimination case. For advice you can understand and representation you can rely upon, talk to the Oakland employment law attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our employment law attorneys can help you understand your options and put together a plan for handling your case. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

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FEHA Protections Apply to Worker Regardless of His Immigration Status, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Dec. 15, 2014