Hawaii cable company's 'inflexible' leave policy violated ADA, EEOC says
- Spectrum, one of Hawaii's cable providers, violated federal law when it denied leave as an accommodation to some of its customer service representatives at its Mililani, Hawaii, headquarters, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has alleged in a lawsuit (EEOC v. Oceanic Time Warner Cable dba Spectrum and Charter Comm. Inc., No. 1:18-cv-00357 (D. Haw., Sept. 19, 2018)).
- When employees exhausted Family and Medical Leave Act leave, Spectrum failed to engage in the Americans with Disabilities Act's interactive process to determine if reasonable accommodations were needed, the suit says. It simply notified employees that if they could not return to full duty, they would be fired, according to the EEOC. Spectrum also denied reasonable accommodations to probationary employees because its policy only allowed for two unpaid absences during the six-month probationary period. For employees who exhausted their earned sick leave and two unpaid absences, the company did not engage in the interactive process to determine if reasonable accommodations could be provided and instead, fired them, EEOC said.
- The commission has asked for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages for the class, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination.
Inflexible leave policies continue to land employers in hot water. "The EEOC continues to see employers failing to adhere to the requirements for reasonable accommodations under federal law," Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles district, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Earlier this summer, a Nevada gaming company paid $3.5 million to resolve a lawsuit challenging its 100% healed policy. The agency said the employer violated the ADA by requiring workers with disabilities or medical conditions to be 100% healed before returning to work. EEOC said this practice didn't account for the ADA's interactive process or its reasonable accommodation requirement.
HR can work to ensure that supervisors understand workers' ADA rights and are trained to listen for and respond to requests for accommodation so as to avoid discrimination claims.
"Terminating employees on leave without engaging in the interactive process and requiring employees to return to full duty without an accommodation are issues that the EEOC continually sees," Glory Gervacio Saure, director for the EEOC's Honolulu local office, also said in the statement. "Employers should take heed and address these practices for the betterment of their company."
Addressing disability discrimination in the form of inflexible leave policies is one of six national priorities identified in EEOC's strategic enforcement plan.