Nursing facility pays $465K for return-to-work policy
- Absolut Care LLC, a group of nursing and health care facilities in upstate New York, has agreed to pay $465,000 to settle pregnancy and disability discrimination claims, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced. The company operates 12 facilities and employs more than 1,400 employees, according to the commission.
- EEOC alleged that Absolut Care failed to accommodate workers with disabilities: it denied leave as a reasonable accommodation and refused to allow workers to return to work unless they could do so without medical restrictions, it said. The employer also subjected employees to impermissible disability-related inquiries and medical examinations, the commission alleged. EEOC also said that the company fired employees on the basis of pregnancy and failed to accommodate pregnancy-related medical restrictions.
- The three-year consent decree calls for the company to pay $40,000 in lost wages and damages to a former employee and $425,000 into a class settlement fund. The company also agreed to revise its leave, discipline and attendance policies and to train administrators and HR on federal laws' requirements.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation for workers with disabilities. This can include leave beyond what other laws, like the Family and Medical Leave Act, require or adjustments that allow an employee to return from leave.
Kevin Berry, director of the EEOC's New York District Office, said in a statement announcing the settlement that it is "impermissible and unlawful to fire an employee who exhausts her leave under the Family Medical Leave Act — or other medical leave — without considering additional leave or a job modification that would enable her to return to work."
When employees are absent for medical reasons, employers sometimes require them to produce releases to return to work, Aaron Clark, an attorney with McGrath North Mullin & Kratz, PC LLO, wrote in a firm publication. Although such policies can be lawful, employers often get into trouble when they take the policy one step further and require the employee to be "100% healed" or have "no restrictions" before returning to work, Clark said. But an employee who is not 100% cleared to come back to work may be able to work if reasonable accommodations are provided, he explained.
The EEOC has been on the lookout for these 100%-healed policies for several years. 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.