Employees that are suffering from disabling physical or mental conditions may need to take time off of work in order to obtain treatment or recover. But, the vast majority of employers only allow their employees to take a certain number of sick days every year. It’s possible that you will need additional time off after exhausting all of your sick days. What are your options? If you’re in this situation, it’s important to understand your legal rights so you know when it’s appropriate to contact an employee rights attorney in San Francisco.

What Federal and State Laws Protect Disabled Workers in California?

There are both federal and state laws that protect disabled workers in California. The federal law, called the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), was established to ensure that disabled individuals have the same rights and opportunities in the workplace as non-disabled individuals. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) was established for the same purpose. In fact, the two laws are very similar when it comes to the protections they offer to disabled individuals. But, there is one major difference. The ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, whereas the FEHA applies to employers with 5 or more employees. This means the FEHA offers broader protection and covers more employees in the state of California. 

What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

Both the ADA and FEHA give employees with physical or mental disabilities the right to request reasonable accommodations in the workplace. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment or modification in the workplace that allows the disabled individual to perform his job duties. 

For example, an employee who uses a wheelchair may ask his employer to install a ramp so he can get to his designated work area. This is necessary because the employee cannot access certain parts of the building without the ramp as a result of his disability.

Employers must make reasonable accommodations for their disabled employees unless they can prove that granting the request would impose an undue hardship. For example, this accommodation may impose an undue hardship if it would be incredibly difficult to install the ramp without a significant amount of expensive construction work. 

If it does not impose an undue hardship, the employer must make the accommodation. Failing to do so is a form of disability discrimination that is prohibited by both federal and state law.

Is A Leave of Absence Considered A Reasonable Accommodation?

A leave of absence is often considered a reasonable accommodation, but not always. Taking a leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation if the following conditions are met:

  • The employee cannot currently perform his or her job duties or needs time to treat or recover from a medical condition.
  • The employee will most likely be able to return to work at the end of the leave of absence.
  • The employee’s absence will not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
  • There are no other reasonable accommodations that can be made to achieve the same results.

If these conditions are met, the employer must consider the request to take a leave of absence. This may mean granting the employee a leave of absence or simply extending the leave provided by the California Family Rights Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, or other laws. 

When Can Employers in California Deny A Request For A Leave of Absence?

Being disabled does not mean that you automatically qualify for the reasonable accommodation of additional time off. Employers are not always required to give disabled employees additional time off. It’s possible that your employer will say that granting this request would impose an undue hardship. For example, a small business may argue that losing an employee for that length of time will make it nearly impossible for the business to operate. However, an employer cannot simply make this claim without providing proof otherwise they cannot deny it.

If there are other options available, an employer is not required to allow an employee to take a leave of absence. For example, if there are other reasonable accommodations that will serve the same purpose as a leave of absence, the employer can choose which accommodation to make. Some employers may not choose the leave of absence when given this choice. 

Employers are also not required to allow a disabled employee to take an indefinite leave of absence since this would be an unreasonable accommodation.

Do You Have to Provide Medical Documentation to Your Employer?

You will need to communicate directly with your employer in order to request a reasonable accommodation. During the review process, your employer may want to meet with you to discuss whether or not other accommodations are more appropriate than a leave of absence. Your employer may also ask questions to determine how much time you will need off and whether or not you will be capable of performing your job duties upon your return.

Your employer may also find it necessary to ask for medical documentation during the review process. Are you required to provide this documentation? Yes and no. The law states that an employer is allowed to ask for medical documentation that confirms the disability and the need for a leave of absence. This includes documentation that describes the disability and the impact it has had on your life. Your employer may hold off on deciding whether or not to grant your request for a leave of absence until they have received this documentation. However, employees are not required to discuss the nature of their disabilities with their employer. 

How Can An Employee Rights Attorney in San Francisco Help?

As a disabled individual, you are entitled to certain rights in the workplace. But, the laws that protect disabled individuals in the workplace in California are complex and confusing. If you believe your right to reasonable accommodations has been violated, it’s in your best interest to seek legal representation at once. Discuss your case with the skilled team of employment law attorneys at Geonetta & Frucht, LLP as soon as possible.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.