While some Milwaukee employers were undoubtedly cheered by a recent Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision, some employment law attorneys encourage employers to regardless be cautious. The court held in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. that employers can deny a leave of absence as an accommodation for a disability.

Many had long understood the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to allow workers to take those leaves, but the court held that “a long‑term leave of absence cannot be a reasonable accommodation.”

The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to review the decision, so it is for now a ruling in effect in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Regardless, experts are unsure if Wisconsin state law might require employers to grant long-term leaves as an accommodation.

The case began five years ago when an employee of Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. – a West Bend company – hurt his back at home and took a 12-week leave of absence under the FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) to recuperate. Two weeks before his FMLA leave was exhausted, he asked his employer for an additional two months of leave so that he could undergo surgery to improve his still-painful back issues.

The company denied the request and fired him, though they did tell him that he could reapply for a job after he got medical clearance to work again.

The worker argued that Heartland failed to reasonably accommodate his disability, but the court rejected the argument. Its decision is that an “inability to work for a multi‑month period removes a person from the class protected by the ADA.”

If you have been improperly been denied FMLA benefits, contact an employment law attorney experienced in protecting workers, careers and rights.