Accommodating Absence: Medical Leave as an ADA Reasonable Accommodation

Sean P. Mulloy*

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is widely regarded as one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in American history. Among its requirements, Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities and requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals. Many questions about the scope of the reasonable-accommodation mandate remain, however, as federal circuit courts disagree over whether extended medical leave may be considered a reasonable accommodation and whether an employee on leave is a qualified individual. This Note argues that courts should presume finite unpaid medical leaves of absence are a reasonable accommodation under certain circumstances and shift the focus of judicial inquiry to the employer’s burden of showing undue hardship. Creating a presumption for medical leave is consistent with the text and purpose of the ADA, aligns with Supreme Court case law, and serves as a better framework for balancing competing policy concerns compared to existing approaches.

*J.D. Candidate, May 2020, University of Michigan Law School. I’m grateful to Sarah Mezera, Claire Shimberg, Jackson Erpenbach, and the Notes office for their thoughtful feedback and edits. I could not have completed this project without Sophia Gonzalez’s support and encouragement. I also thank the attorneys at the Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, whose work inspired this Note.

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