Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance

Ask the Expert: Is PTO Appropriate When the ADA Doesn’t Require a Paid Leave of Absence?

Question: We have an employee whose essential functions require the use of their hands. They have requested an accommodation, and their physician has recommended a few weeks of time off until specific medical restrictions can be determined. What is our obligation to pay this employee during this doctor-recommended leave of absence?

Answer: The leave of absence described would be a reasonable accommodation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You have no obligation under the ADA to pay an employee during a leave of absence. However, if you pay employees who take leaves of absence for nondisability-related reasons, then you must treat employees on ADA leaves of absence the same.

Many employers allow employees to use paid time off (PTO) during otherwise unpaid leaves of absence. Notably, you can’t forget about your obligations under state disability laws, as well as state sick leave or medical leave laws, under which such time off may need to be paid. For example, time off would likely qualify as job-protected Paid Family and Medical Leave in Massachusetts.

Meaghan Murphy is an attorney at the firm of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., in Springfield, Massachusetts, and can be reached at

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