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Home / Expert Opinion / Workplace Issues: Burden of performing essential functions triggers accomodation

Workplace Issues: Burden of performing essential functions triggers accomodation

Lindy Korn

Lindy Korn

While plaintiffs are entitled to a medical leave of absence to accommodate their disabilities, the employer is not obligated to honor that request if the plaintiff does not assure management when he can return to work, since that is an essential function of performing his job, Petrone v. Hampton Bays Union Free School District, 13-2960-cv, May 28, Summary Order.

Plaintiff, John Petrone, a teacher, appeals from a judgment of the District Court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant school district. He brought claims under the American with Disabilities Act alleging that the defendant district failed to provide him a reasonable accommodation for, and forced him to resign from his position because of his mental illness.

Beginning in January 2002, Petrone took a medical leave of absence from teaching in order to treat his mental illness. At the time he began his leave of absence, Petrone could not perform the essential functions of a teacher without accommodation. He could not go to school or teach without experiencing symptoms of his generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Petrone contends that if the district had accommodated him by granting him additional leave, he could have returned to teaching and fulfilled all essential job functions.

Although the reasonable accommodation requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act is a flexible legal concept, it must be reasonable, so as not to create an undue burden on the employer. Here, the court found that Petrone was not a “qualified individual” because he “did not, and could not, provide the school district any assurance that a temporary leave of absence would allow him to resume teaching.”

This is because neither Petrone nor his doctor ever informed the school district of a date when he anticipated being able to return to work or indicated how long a leave of absence might have to last.

This case reminds practitioners that producing medical evidence of when a person can perform the essential functions of his/her job triggers the reasonable accommodation conversation.

Lindy Korn practices at The Law Office of Lindy Korn and can be reached at lkorn@lkorn-law.com, (716) 856-KORN (5676) or www.lindykorn.com.