American flag, ADA law book and stethoscope

Leave Rights Under the ADA

Atkinson & Frampton, PLLC July 25, 2023

When you suffer from an injury or illness that qualifies as a disability, you may need to take some time off work for a variety of reasons, from attending a medical appointment to coping with the side effects of your treatment.   

Fortunately, there are state and federal laws in place that protect your leave rights if you have a qualifying disability. One of the most comprehensive laws that protect the rights of disabled people is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, many people with a disability do not understand their leave rights under the ADA, which makes it challenging for them to request leave when needed.   

Our employment law attorneys at Atkinson & Frampton, PLLC, are dedicated to fighting for the civil rights of employees in Charleston, West Virginia, and throughout the state, including Beckley, Morgantown, Huntington, Parkersburg, and Martinsburg.   

How the ADA Defines Disability

According to the website of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, a person with a disability under the ADA is someone who:   

  1. has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity (some examples of major life activities are sitting, walking, breathing, seeing, and hearing);   

  1. has a history of mental or physical impairment; or  

  1. is perceived by others as having a mental or physical impairment (e.g., a person with facial scars from a severe burn).   

Protections granted by the ADA apply when a person falls into any of these three categories.   

Leave Rights Under the ADA

Under the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation can be in the form of changes to:  

  • the employee’s work environment;  

  • the way the employee does their job; or   

  • the employer’s policies.   

Common examples of reasonable accommodations include: changing work hours, improving accessibility in the work area, and acquiring or modifying equipment or devices to help the employee with a disability perform their job duties. The ADA allows employees to use their own accrued paid vacation or sick leave or request unpaid leave as an accommodation.   

What Is Considered “Disability” to Be Eligible for ADA Leave?

As mentioned earlier, the ADA considers a disability any mental or physical impairment that substantially limits an employee’s one or more major life activities. In order to determine whether or not your condition qualifies as a disability to be eligible for ADA leave, you need to understand what is considered a “major life activity.”   

Under the ADA, major life activities include a list of basic activities that are important to the average person’s daily life and can be performed with little to no difficulty. The list includes the following activities:  

  • Sitting  

  • Walking  

  • Breathing  

  • Seeing  

  • Hearing  

  • Speaking  

  • Learning  

  • Eating  

  • Taking care of oneself  

  • Sleeping   

  • Lifting  

  • Performing manual tasks  

Major bodily functions (e.g., immune system functions, normal bowel, digestive, bladder, respiratory, neurological, brain, and other functions).   

If you have a qualifying disability, you must be qualified to perform the essential functions of your job – with or without reasonable accommodation – in order to enjoy protections from job discrimination provided by the ADA.    

Requesting Leave

Requesting leave under the ADA is a three-step process:  

  • Step 1: Submitting a leave request. The process for requesting leave may differ from one company to another. Usually, the process is outlined in the employee handbook or other documents provided by the employer. In most cases, contacting the employer’s HR is the first step to take in order to initiate a request for leave.   

  • Step 2: Decide on the appropriate leave. After the receipt of the leave request, the employer will reach out to the employee to communicate regarding the appropriate disability leave. The employee may be asked to provide their doctor’s notes that document what kind of leave would be appropriate. Then, the employer must determine whether or not the requested leave could cause them undue hardship before approving or rejecting it.   

  • Step 3: Documenting. When the employer approves an employee’s leave request, this should be documented in the employee’s file. This will serve as evidence to document the fact that the employer is compliant with all requirements under the ADA in case of a future legal dispute.   

You will want to get assistance from a reliable attorney when requesting ADA leave to avoid mistakes during the process and ensure the most favorable outcome possible.    

Job Protection During ADA Leave

Under the ADA, employers are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with a disability upon their request. However, if an employee cannot perform the essential functions of their position even after reasonable accommodations have been provided, that employee may not be entitled to job protection under the ADA.   

Job protection under the ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Another federal law – the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – provides stronger job protection during leave. Under the FMLA, eligible employees can have up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave annually. Job protection under the FMLA applies to employees with a serious health condition, those who need to care for their child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition, and employees who meet other criteria.   

Legal Assistance You Can Count On

If you think you have a qualifying disability to request leave under the ADA, you need to be able to navigate federal law. You need to get legal assistance from an employment law attorney to take the necessary steps when requesting leave and ensure that your rights are not being violated by your employer during the process. Discuss your situation with our attorneys at Atkinson & Frampton, PLLC, by scheduling a free case review. We proudly serve clients in Charleston, West Virginia, Beckley, Morgantown, Huntington, Parkersburg, and Martinsburg.