- A Texas-based company that provides "food demonstrators" to retailers and warehouse stores has agreed to pay $2.65 million to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit alleging disability bias against the workers. More than one hundred former workers will share the settlement.
- The agency said the employees, who prepared and served food samples to shoppers, were only allowed to sit on a stool for 10 minutes every two hours. EEOC alleged that permission to sit for longer periods of time — which the employer denied — would have been a reasonable accommodation for some employees with disabilities.
- In addition to the payout, the consent decree requires the employer to designate ADA coordinators to address requests for accommodation, revise its disability discrimination and reasonable accommodation policies, provide training to managers and employees and establish a toll-free number for employees to obtain information about requests for accommodations.
The ADA generally requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability, unless the company would suffer an undue hardship as a result. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would be "too difficult or too expensive to provide, in light of the employer's size, financial resources, and the needs of the business," EEOC has explained.
Accommodation can take various forms. It can be something simple and low-cost, such as a policy exemption that allows for a chair or a snack or drink. In fact, EEOC clearly takes the position that modifying a workplace policy because of an employee's disability can be a reasonable accommodation, it has explained.
Experts recommend that employers empower managers to grant simple adjustments or policy exemptions, noting that by getting into "ADA land," as one expert dubbed it, employers can sometimes turn a small problem in a major issue. Earlier this year, Hyatt Corporation agreed to pay $85,000 and provide six weeks of paid leave — worth about $15,000 — to settle an EEOC lawsuit claiming that a hotel failed to accommodate an employee with a chronic back ailment when he asked for a chair.
Whenever an employee reveals a need or a problem, to ensure that requests for ADA accommodation start off on sound legal footing, experts have suggested that HR train supervisors to ask: "How can I help you?"
Because the ADA does not require that accommodation requests be in writing or that "magic" language be used, employers should also have a system in place that helps managers and supervisors recognize accommodation requests. Experts say the system should provide help in determining what accommodations are available, as well as assistance for choosing and monitoring accommodations.