- An Alabama-based beverage distributor violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it required an employee with a heart condition to return to work with no medical restrictions and then fired him instead of providing a reasonable accommodation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a lawsuit.
- The employee, who worked for Allstate Beverage Company as a warehouse administrator, suffered an embolism and was hospitalized. He offered to return to work with lifting restrictions and then asked for more time off when Allstate Beverage said he could return to work only if he had a full medical release. The employee then asked for additional unpaid leave as an accommodation so that he could return to work with no medical restrictions, but Allstate Beverage refused that request and then fired the man, the EEOC said.
- In a statement announcing the lawsuit, the EEOC regional attorneys said employers should be warned that denying requests for accommodations because they have already granted leave could subject them to liability under the ADA and that employers are obliged to provide individual consideration to reasonable requests for accommodations.
Since issuing a 2016 guidance, the EEOC has been cracking down on companies that have 100% healed policies and has also identified inflexible leave as an enforcement priority. The policies require that employees who have been out on medical leave be fully recovered and able to work without any limitations. Unless an employer can show that needed accommodations would cause undue hardship, employers may violate the ADA if they require employees to be "100% healed" or recovered before returning to work, the federal agency says.
In a lawsuit filed late last month, the EEOC alleged that one of the largest tank truck carriers in the United States violated the ADA when it fired two employees with disabilities who had exhausted their medical leave. Similarly, United Airlines was sued earlier this year by employees who claimed United violated the ADA with its 100% healed return-to-work policy.
Additionally, in a recent settlement, Blood Bank of Hawaii agreed to pay $175,000 to settle an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit over claims that the non-profit blood collection company required employees to return to work without limitation at the end of the 12 weeks allowed under the FMLA and fired employees who had exhausted leave under the FMLA but needed more time, or who were unable to return to work without restrictions.
In 2017, the 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. that a multi-month leave of absence is beyond the scope of reasonable accommodation under the ADA. However, the EEOC has taken a firm stance that additional unpaid leave beyond that which is granted under the FMLA is a reasonable accommodation, and most other circuits have agreed with the Commission. The EEOC also filed a brief in court opposing the Severson decision.
There are limits to how far an employer must go to accommodate a worker's disability. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that UPS did not have to create a new position for a worker returning from surgery. The worker was not a "qualified individual" under the ADA because his numerous restrictions, including cognitive limitations, prevented him from performing the core requirements of his job, the court said.
Experts have recommended that employers check their policies, eliminating "one-size-fits-all" rules and moving to case-by-case review.