- Aspire Health Partners allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to rehire a long-time former employee based on a previous workplace injury, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said in a recently filed lawsuit.
- Aspire terminated the worker’s employment when she exhausted her available medical leave but had not yet recovered, EEOC said. When she was medically cleared for work, she applied for a position in the same program that she had developed and supervised. Just hours before her interview, she was notified that she was not eligible for rehire at the Florida-based behavioral healthcare non-profit because of her workers’ compensation file.
- The federal agency said it is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief to prevent and correct disability discrimination. It also requested training for Aspire’s HR staff on federal equal employment opportunity laws.
EEOC has been cracking down on companies that maintain 100% healed policies and the federal agency also identified inflexible leave as an enforcement priority in recent years. Employers violate the ADA if they require employees to be "100% healed" or recovered before returning to work unless the employer can prove that the accommodations needed by the worker would cause undue hardship, the EEOC says.
Past settlements with the federal enforcement agency over the issue include a payment of $950,000 by a company that provides healthcare to jails and prisons; it settled a claim alleging it refused to accommodate workers with disabilities who had exhausted their leave under the company’s policy and the Family and Medical Leave Act. EEOC also alleged in that case that the company fired workers if they were unable to return to work without medical restrictions at the end of their leave or were not 100% healed, while failing to discuss accommodations like reassignment, unpaid leave or a modified work schedule. In another settlement, Blood Bank of Hawaii agreed to pay $175,000 to settle an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit alleging the non-profit blood collection company required employees to return to work without limitations at the end of the 12 weeks allowed under the FMLA and that it fired workers who had exhausted their leave or who needed a reasonable accommodation to return to work.
The EEOC has said that employers must consider additional leave as a reasonable accommodation for workers with disabilities even if the worker has exhausted their leave, including leave available under the FMLA, workers' comp or equivalent leave under local or state law. The agency has made clear, however, that employers are not required to provide additional paid leave beyond what is already provided as part of a paid leave policy.