Many employers and HR professionals view disabled employees as being immune to disciplinary actions when they have attendance violations. This view is often based on past experience and the many negative “war stories,” that are often shared when employers are sued for disability discrimination – even after they believe that the were doing everything correctly. The stress of these stories and experiences often causes business leaders to become overly cautious and implement practices where disabled employees are never terminated and never disciplined. While that might suit some situations, recent appellate court decisions have shown that such over-corrections might not be necessary in every case.
There are three recent decisions that come from the Court Appeals that point to the same conclusion – employers can consider attendance as essential to the function of just about and job and in some cases can terminate disabled employees for attendance related issues. The caveat of doing such terminations is that the attendance issues must not be for reasons that are protected leave under laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and any state laws of this nature, including local sick leave laws. When unapproved absences are not related to a protected leave, these decisions show that courts have leaned in favor of employers being able to terminate disabled employees. Continue reading Cautious Optimism for Holding Disabled Employees Accountable for Attendance Issues
In a recent case (Hostettler v. College of Wooster), the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a requirement that an employee work full time, without a duties-based reason for the requirement.
In this case, the plaintiff was an HR Generalist at College of Wooster. The plaintiff had recently had a baby and, when she was released to return to work, her doctor provided a restriction that the plaintiff could only work part-time because the plaintiff was suffering from postpartum depression and separation anxiety.
Initially, the employer granted the requested accommodation – allowing the employee to work 5 half days per week. The plaintiff worked that modified schedule for one month and then turned in a note from her doctor stating that she would need to continue working the modified schedule for an additional two months. The next day, the employee was terminated. The reason given – the department could not function properly because the plaintiff was not working full-time and working a full-time schedule was an essential function of the HR Generalist position. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit claiming that her termination was discriminatory. Continue reading NEW CASE: Without More, Full-Time Attendance Is Not An Essential Job Function
In a recently decided federal case ( EEOC v. BSNF Railway Company), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that employers are required to pay for an employer-required post-offer medical examination.
In this case, the company made an offer of employment to an individual and conditioned the offer of employment on the candidate successfully completing a medical examination. This candidate had a history of back issues and was required to obtain an MRI as a part of the examination (which the candidate was going to have to pay for out-of-pocket). The candidate told the company that he could not afford to pay for the MRI and the company rescinded the job offer.
The Court confirmed that ADA permits follow-up medical testing where such testing is “medically related to previously-obtained medical information.” However, the ADA does not specify who should pay for the additional testing. The Court determined that requiring the candidate to assume the costs of the additional testing could go against the anti-discrimination provisions and the policy purposes of the ADA, by forcing them “to face costly barriers to employment.” As a result, the Court found that employers must bear the costs of any such testing.
The Washington State Attorney General recently published a Guide (“Pregnant Workers’ Accommodation Rights”) which outlines pregnant employees’ civil rights under the Washington Healthy Starts Act.
As a refresher, the Washington Healthy Starts Act requires Washington employers with at least 15 employees in Washington state provide accommodations to pregnant employee, regardless of a pregnancy disability. Among the accommodations to be provided include, but are not limited to:
- Providing more frequent, longer, or flexible restroom breaks;
- Modifying a no food or drink policy;
- (Job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, or acquiring or modifying equipment, devices, or an employee’s workstation;
- Providing seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently if her job requires her to stand;
- Providing for a temporary transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous position;
- Providing assistance with manual labor and limits on lifting;
- Scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits; and
- Any further pregnancy accommodation an employee may request, and to which an employer must give reasonable consideration in consultation with information provided on pregnancy accommodation by the department of labor and industries or the attending health care provider of the employee.
Continue reading NEW GUIDANCE: Washington State Attorney General Publishes New Guide on Pregnancy Accommodations
In a recent case (Sessoms v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, employers are not required to provide the accommodation requested by the employee. Instead, after engaging in the interactive process, employers may choose among reasonable accommodations as long as the chosen accommodation is effective.
In this case, an employee had been out on a medical leave of absence relating to her disability. Prior to returning to work, the employee engaged in the interactive process with her employer (the university) and requested that she be provided a part-time schedule and that she be transferred to a different supervisor in a “lower-stress department/office” as a reasonable accommodation for her disability.
The university agreed to provide the employee with a part-time schedule, but the university did not grant the employee’s request to change supervisors. The university offered the employee several different accommodations (all of which involved reporting to her current supervisor), but the employee refused to accept any accommodation that involved her reporting to her current supervisor. Ultimately, after making several attempts to get the employee to accept the offered accommodation, the employee was terminated. The employee later sued the university for disability discrimination. Continue reading NEW CASE: Court Reminds Employers That Reasonable Accommodation ≠ Employee’s Demand Where There Are Other Reasonable Alternatives
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing recently published a model Equal Opportunity Policy.
Under California law, employers are required to “take reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct discriminatory and harassing conduct.” A part of this obligation includes a requirement that employers develop a harassment, discrimination, and retaliation prevention policy that: Continue reading NEW GUIDANCE: DFEH Publishes Model Equal Employment Opportunity Policy
On August 21, 2018, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 1595 into law. This new law amends the Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act and expands the legal protections afforded to nursing mothers in Illinois. The amendments to this law took immediate effect.
Under the existing law, Illinois employers with 6 or more employees are required to grant “reasonable unpaid break time” each day to an employee needing to express breast milk for her infant child.
The amended law makes the following changes to the existing law:
- Employers are required to provide “reasonable break time” (instead of “unpaid break time”) each time an employee needs to express milk for one year following the child’s birth.
- The “reasonable break time” may run concurrently with existing break time provided to employees (the original law provided that break time “must, if possible” run concurrently with other breaks).
- Employers are prohibited from reducing an employee’s compensation for time spent for the purpose of expressing milk.
- Employers must prove that an undue hardship exists in order to avoid providing the required breaks. “Undue hardship” is defined as an “action that is prohibitively expensive or disruptive” when considering its nature and cost, the overall financial resources of the facility, the overall financial resources of the employer, and the type of operation of the employer.
It is recommended that all Illinois employers review their lactation accommodation practices and ensure that they comply with the new law.
Earlier this year, South Carolina passed an amendment to the state’s Human Affairs Law, which requires employers with at least 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with a “pregnancy-related condition” (i.e. medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions), unless the employer can demonstrate the accommodation would impose an undue hardship. (See our article “South Carolina Adds to Existing Pregnancy Accommodation Requirements” for more information about this amendment).
To help employers better understand their obligations under this new law, the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission has published Frequently Asked Questions addressing the new amendment. It is recommended that all South Carolina employers review these FAQs.
Continue reading NEW GUIDANCE: South Carolina Publishes FAQs For New State Pregnancy Accommodations Act
A Florida jury recently awarded a former Costco employee $775,000 for her claim that the company failed to reasonably accommodate her disability.
The former employee is deaf and she claimed that Costco failed to provide sufficient interpreting services for her at work — specifically during larger group meetings (held via conference call). While Costco had provided this employee with a video phone, the employee had complained that the video phone did not work properly during larger meetings where there are multiple conversations occurring at the same time. The employee asked Costco to provide a live interpreter for the large meetings and, while Costco agreed to provide the interpreter, one was never actually provided.
Continue reading Failure to provide reasonable accommodation to deaf employee costs Costco $775,000
On June 5th, Nevada Restaurant Services, a large Las Vegas-based gaming company that operates slot machines, taverns, and casinos, agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In the suit, the EEOC alleged that by requiring workers with disabilities or medical conditions to be “100% healed” before returning to work the Las Vegas gaming company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC argued that this behavior doesn’t adhere to the ADA’s interactive process, let alone its reasonable accommodation requirement.
Furthermore, the EEOC showed that Nevada Restaurant Services went as far as firing employees because it viewed them as disabled or, in some cases, were simply associated with someone with a disability.
The EEOC’s Fight Moves Onward
Continue reading The EEOC Claims Another Victory in Fight for Disabled Workers