Employers are still having difficulty understanding their legal requirements to provide workplace supports to employees with disabilities. The EEOC filed yet another disability discrimination lawsuit...is time against Americold Logistics, LLC, an Atlanta-based global provider of temperature-controlled warehousing and logistics to the food industry.
According to the EEOC's suit, the Company failed to accommodate the disability of an employee with chronic lumbar back pain with radiculopathy (not a specific condition, but rather a description of a problem in which one or more nerves are affected and do not work properly neuropathy) into her legs. Further, the EEOC said, that the Company held the employee to different terms and conditions of employment and then fired her based on her disability. The EEOC seeks back pay as well as compensatory and punitive damages for the employee and injunctive relief against the company.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries account for nearly half of all musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace (BLS, 2010).
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. Therefore, some people with back impairments will have a disability under the ADA and some will not.
Employers, however, should focus on what can be reasonably done to remove barriers to employment so that the employee can continue doing their job rather than spending their time deciding if someone meets the definition of disability. Many accommodations exist and should be explored with the employee to answer the following questions:
1. What limitations is the employee with a back impairment experiencing?
2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
Once accommodations are in place, it can be useful to meet with the employee with a back impairment to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed. If after a reasonable time has passed and the employee still can't do their job to the same standards held by other employees doing the same job, then there may be grounds for lawful termination.
Make sure your supervisory personnel and employees receive adequate training regarding back impairments and ways to accommodate company employees. And remember, Springboard can help you deliver training that meets your company's needs.
This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.