- Coca-Cola Refreshments USA has entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), promising to pay $2.25 million to settle nine disability discrimination charges alleging that the company failed to properly accommodate employees with disabilities.
- Coca-Cola also agreed, during EEOC's conciliation process, to update its policies and procedures to improve accommodations provided to employees returning to work after disability-related absences, EEOC said.
- Finally, the company will establish a dedicated accommodation and leave management team and provide "annual financial support to selected non-profits dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities find and keep employment."
While EEOC didn't detail its allegations against Coca-Cola, the agency has been on the lookout for "100% healed" policies in recent years. These rules require that employees returning from medical leave demonstrate that they are able to perform all the function of their job, but EEOC says such policies ignore the ADA's requirement that employers provide accommodations that allow employees to work — policy exemptions, removal of marginal functions and reassignment, for example.
In June, Nevada Restaurant Services paid $3.5 million to settle similar claims, also agreeing to retain an ADA consultant; implement ADA training for HR and supervisory personnel; develop a centralized tracking system for employee requests for disability accommodations; and submit regular reports to the EEOC.
According to employment law firm Fisher Phillips, litigation targeting such employer policies has become more prevalent since the issuance of a 2016 guidance and the agency's designation of this area as one of its top enforcement priorities.
In that guidance, EEOC says that if an employee returns from a leave of absence with restrictions, an employer may ask why the restrictions are required and how long they're likely to be in place. Then it has an obligation to explore possible accommodations that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job consistent with the limitations, EEOC said.
And because it appears this litigation trend "is not going away any time soon," Fisher Phillips recommended that employers review their written policies, review situation on a case-by-case basis, ensure that leave administration is consistent and engage in and document the interactive process.