- Mueller Industries will pay $1 million to settle claims that its 180-day, no-fault attendance policy violated federal law, according to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announcement.
- The commission alleged in a lawsuit that the Memphis-based global metal goods manufacturer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by terminating employees or failing to provide reasonable accommodation for employees who exceeded its maximum 180-day leave policy.
- Under a consent decree, the company agreed to reinstate the affected employees; assign someone to serve as an ADA coordinator; revise its written policies and procedures to include a complaint procedure; create and maintain an accommodation log and post a notice on the matter for employees; train all employees on the ADA; develop a centralized tracking system for accommodation requests; and submit annual reports to the EEOC.
No-fault attendance policies may be attractive to employers for a number of reasons, but EEOC takes the position that they violate the ADA, regardless of how generous they may seem. That's because the ADA requires that each employee receive an individualized assessment and reasonable accommodations as needed; an exemption to a policy can be such an accommodation.
Attempts to define how much leave breaches the "reasonable" part of reasonable accommodation, however, have not yielded much clarity. It's a widely accepted premise that the ADA can require leave beyond the 12 weeks promised by the Family and Medical Leave Act, although a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion (Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc.) recently called that understanding into question, stating that "a multimonth leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation under the ADA."
That decision only applies to employers in the 7th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the ruling. For now, when it comes to leave for a disability, employers must ensure they engage in a good-faith, interactive process to determine whether an employee's request is reasonable.