Despite having a considerable time off, one US District Court decision is suggesting that the termination of someone on leave for over one year may make a company vulnerable to claims of failure to accommodate and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The case involved Rose Cook who worked with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney as a complex risk officer in downtown Houston. Cook was informed that she needed to improve her communication with a new boss. While this was all going on, Cook was diagnosed with premature ventricular contractions and general anxiety disorder. She decided she needed to take a leave of absence, which began on November 8, 2011. This was, coincidentally, the day before a scheduled meeting with her boss to improve the aforementioned communications. On November 9, the company decided that Cook should work at another location to improve communications, cross-train and learn new policies and procedures.
Instead of working at this different location, Cook thought it would be a better to remain on leave and also objected to the transfer.
On December 12, Cook’s primary care physician authorized her to work for four hours per day with no travel. She was authorized by her doctor to work at the main office location. When she returned to work, she was informed that she was reassigned to the new office. Cook was under the impression that this violated her physician’s order and she contacted her caseworker who instructed her to return home on medical leave.
Two months later, Cook’s primary care physician wrote a letter to her caseworker authorizing Cook to work on a part-time basis for three weeks and only at the downtown office “to eliminate stress and new challenges.”
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s executive director of human resources told one HR representative that the doctor’s request was “not an accommodation that a physician can or should request,” and instructed the HR representative not to make the modifications.