Wednesday, July 6, 2011

EEOC announces record settlement in ADA case challenging rigid attendance policy

Last month I reported on the EEOC’s public meeting on leaves of absences as ADA reasonable accommodations. At the time, I recommended the following:

Avoid leave policies that provide a per se maximum amount of leave, after which time an employee loses his or her job.

Engage in the interactive process with an employee who needs an extended leave of absence, which includes the gathering of sufficient medical information and a definitive return to work date documented by a medical professional.

Involve your employment counsel to aid in the process of deciding when an extended leave crosses the line from a reasonable accommodation to an undue hardship.

Today, the EEOC reported a record settlement in a disability discrimination class action lawsuit that underscores my points:

Telecommunications giant Verizon Communications will pay $20 million and provide significant equitable relief to resolve a nationwide class disability discrimination lawsuit filed by EEOC…. The suit … said the company unlawfully denied reasonable accommodations to hundreds of employees and disciplined and/or fired them pursuant to Verizon’s “no fault” attendance plans….

The EEOC charged that Verizon violated the ADA by refusing to make exceptions to its “no fault” attendance plans to accommodate employees with disabilities. Under the challenged attendance plans, if an employee accumulated a designated number of “chargeable absences,” Verizon placed the employee on a disciplinary step which could ultimately result in more serious disciplinary consequences, including termination.

The EEOC asserted that Verizon failed to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, such as making an exception to its attendance plans for individuals whose “chargeable absences” were caused by their disabilities. Instead, the EEOC said, the company disciplined or terminated employees who needed such accommodations.

According to the EEOC, “This settlement demonstrates the need for employers to have attendance policies which take into account the need for paid or unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities.” I could not agree more. If you are considering taking an adverse action against an employee whose medical leave has butted up against a rigid attendance or leave policy, please take 15 minutes and call your employment counsel first.

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or