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By John Kristensen of Kristensen, LLP posted in Employment Law -- Employee on Tuesday, December 17, 2019.
What Employees Are Qualified for Disability Leave?

When an employee is unable to work as the result of injury or impairment, they may be qualified for disability leave. Disability leave may be granted on a short- or long-term basis, depending on the nature of the injury or impairment and the needs of the employee. These employees are protected by the ADA – the Americans with Disabilities Act – to ensure their livelihood is not compromised as the result of limitations they may suffer through no fault of their own. How does disability leave work, and which employees are qualified to take it?


Short-term leave

A short-term injury, impairment, or illness may qualify an employee for a short-term leave of disability if it is deemed “sufficiently severe”. Although this leaves some room for interpretation, it typically indicates a circumstance that will limit the employee’s ability to work for a period of time less than six months, as well as where the employer can make reasonable accommodations to support the employee to continue to work when and where they are able. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employers, too, and specifies that accommodations must be reasonable and not result in “undue hardship” for employers.


Long-term leave

Long-term disability leave is typically taken when an employee will be limited in their ability to perform the duties of their job for a period of six months or more. An employee does not need to be considered permanently disabled to receive these benefits, but they do need to be unable to adequately perform the tasks required by either their actual occupation, or by any occupation at all. It is often required that the employee is a regular, full-time employee for at least a year before they are qualified to take long-term disability leave.


Conditions that qualify for disability

Although this list is not exhaustive, there are a number of illnesses, injuries, and impairments that are more commonly found to qualify for disability. Chronic illness, such as Crohn’s disease or cancer, can certainly result in limitations for an employee that prevents them from performing their work to what would otherwise be the fullest extent of their abilities. Injury from a car accident or other form of personal injury are similarly common. Any circumstance that impairs an employee’s ability to walk, see, sit, hear, speak, eat, breathe, learn, or take care of themselves will likely qualify them to take disability leave.


The concept of disability leave can be a complex one to navigate for employers and employees alike. A disability can come in a number of different forms, and it is not always simple to define clearly. In addition, given that disability leaves may be broken into either short- or long-term periods of time, it is important to know which employee is qualified for which plan based on the nature of their individual needs. If you have any questions about whether or not an employee is qualified to take disability leave – whether you are the business owner, the employee in question, or a concerned loved one – please contact our office so we can help you understand your options.