Many Florida business owners ask their employment law firm this question. In a recent case, multiple employees took medical leave due to various conditions, including lupus; cancer; a stroke; a knee injury requiring several surgeries; a back injury; asthma; and a condition requiring significant abdominal surgery.
The business had a 100% return-to-work policy that requires employees to return to work without restrictions.
The employer told employees that they could not return to work until they had no restrictions related to their injuries and/or disabilities. Essentially, the business required their employees to have no restrictions before they could return to work following a medical leave.
The EEOC found cause to believe that the employer violated the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). When the employer did not agree to a pre-litigation settlement that was acceptable to the EEOC, the EEOC filed a federal lawsuit against the employer for disability discrimination. The lawsuit alleges that the employer failed and refused to engage in good faith discussions with the employees to determine appropriate accommodation. The lawsuit also claims that the employer failed to provide the disabled employees any reasonable accommodation at all.
Less than three weeks after the EEOC filed the lawsuit, the employer agreed to pay $9.8 million to settle the EEOC disability suit.
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EEOC spokespersons stated, “this matter highlights the critical role of the Americans with Disabilities Act in getting people back to work as quickly as possible,” and “this settlement demonstrates the need for employers to have good ADA policies.”
In addition to the $9.8 million to settle the lawsuit, the employer was forced to agree to a two-year consent decree which includes injunctions against engaging in any future discrimination or retaliation based on disability, and requires the employer to adopt policies that ensure reasonable accommodations are provided to persons with disabilities. The business must now provide mandatory periodic training on the ADA to employees.
Florida employers are reminded that one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the EEOC to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA.
Not all Florida companies are covered by the ADA, but if you are unsure of whether the duty to accommodate a disabled worker applies to your Florida business, call us.
If you need any assistance in determining in addressing an EEOC charge of discrimination concerning your Florida business or if you need guidance in any employment policies, please email or call the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. at 1-772-465-5111.
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Some employees claimed that they could perform the duties of their jobs with the reasonable accommodation of intermittent leave or providing a stool to accommodate an employee with a standing restriction.
The employer either terminated or placed the workers on unpaid leave if they still had restrictions when they attempted to return to work.
The employees filed charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming disability discrimination.