- A car dealership employee with anxiety, depression and panic attacks can continue her claim that her employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing her because of her disabilities, a federal district court ruled (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Crain Automotive Holdings, LLC No. 17-cv-00627 (E.D. Ark. April 11, 2019)).
- Contrary to her employer's argument, a reasonable jury could conclude that Judith Vaughan has a disability, the court found, as her anxiety, depression and panic attacks interfered with her thinking, breathing and communicating — major life activities, as defined by the ADA. When she first experienced chest pains that were symptomatic of panic attacks, Vaughan notified her supervisor and later followed up to inform her that she had experienced a panic attack. She continued to communicate with her supervisor as she underwent medical treatment and provided doctors' notes and other forms of documentation.
- Her employer also argued it did not know she was disabled and therefore couldn't have fired her because of her disability, but the court denied summary judgment, saying a jury could find otherwise: Vaughan testified that her supervisors informed her during a meeting that "'due to [her] health, it wasn't going to work out and [she] should take time for [her]self,'" according to court documents.
HR professionals and managers have been vocal about the confusion disability and absence management creates. Only 1 in 4 HR professionals report having a successful absence and disability management program, according to The Standard's Absence and Disability Readiness Index. The recent report found that employers are particularly flummoxed by legal compliance and accommodations.
Hope for the 75% of HR professionals perplexed by absence and disability management lies in education and training, according to Ogletree Deakins Office Managing Shareholder Gregory J. Hare. "Every single manager needs to know a little something about employment law 101," he told attendees at a conference earlier this year. Managers speak on behalf of their companies, so when they make a mistake in managing someone's employment, the company is held accountable. This means managers need training, Hare said.
With training, managers and HR professionals can come to understand that the ADA requires employers to provide employees accommodations that enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. There are some limitations imposed, of course; an employer does not need to provide an accommodation that causes it an undue hardship. But employers need to be prepared to provide accommodations, which the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says can include:
- Modified work schedules or supervisory methods;
- Altering how or when job duties are performed;
- Telework beyond that provided to others;
- Changes in workplace policies (e.g., concerning granting breaks or providing leave);
- Accessible parking if the employer provides on-site parking to all employees; and
- Reassignment to another job.