Employee demanding to wear an oxygen backpack at work?
A stock clerk told her employer that she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema which made breathing difficult. She requested that the business allow her to wear an oxygen backpack at work to treat her symptoms of COPD and emphysema. However, the company’s management denied her requests. The employee continued to work, without using an oxygen backpack.
The employee filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that the Americans with Disabilities Act was violated. The EEOC attempted to broker a settlement with the employer, but when that failed, the EEOC sued the employer, claiming that it violated federal law when it failed to accommodate an employee’s requests for accommodation due to her disabling medical condition and forced her to resign from her employment. EEOC v. Two Peaches Group, LLC, d/b/a Value Village, Civil Action No. 1:18-CV-1916-WSD-JCF). The EEOC is seeking back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages for Clark, as well as injunctive relief designed to prevent future discrimination.
She told her employer that her symptoms were getting worse, so she requested a transfer to a less strenuous position. The Employer rejected her request for a transfer. The employee decided to resign from her position after being hospitalized, citing the company’s denial of her accommodation requests had compromised her health.
EEOC spokespersons stated: “Employers have a legal duty to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities that enable them to perform the essential functions of their job, [and the employer’s] refusal to accommodate [the employee] prevented her from continuing to do the job she had done for over eleven years and compromised her health,” and “an employer should never dismiss an employee's request for a reasonable accommodation for his/her disability. The appropriate accommodation is best determined through an interactive process that involves both the employer and the employee who has a disability.”
Florida employers are reminded that just a couple months ago the EEOC settled another lawsuit with a small business with very similar facts. In that other case, a small business was accused of firing an employee because of his COPD, Asthma and Emphysema.Specifically, a consultant with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and asthma requested a reasonable accommodation. The consultant requested to work on the ground floor of an office building without an elevator, so he would not have to walk up and down the stairs with his condition. The company not only refused his request but thereafter fired him due to his disability. EEOC v. InsideUp, Inc., Case No.: 3:17-cv-01961-CAB-JMA. As part of the four-year consent decree settling the latter lawsuit, the company agreed to pay thousands of dollars to the employee.
In addition to the monetary relief, the business agreed to significant injunctive relief, including, but not limited to, training all its employees; revising its anti-discrimination and retaliation policies and procedures; centrally tracking requests for reasonable accommodations as well as complaints of discrimination and/or retaliation; regularly reporting to the EEOC; and posting a notice about the consent decree and settlement.
Businesses in Florida are reminded that even if they are only a small business, the ADA’s requirements prohibiting disability discrimination apply to all Florida businesses with 15 or more employees.
One of the EEOC quotes above mentions an interactive process. This pertains to the fact that the regulations governing the ADA provide that, to determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation, an employer may need to initiate an informal, interactive process with the individual with a disability in need of an accommodation to identify the person’s limitations and potential reasonable accommodations. The “facts” included in this article were taken from the EEOC’s lawsuits and press releases.
If your Florida company has received a request by an employee to make some type of accommodation, please contact an experienced disability law firm, such as the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. by email or by calling 1-772-465-5111.
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