I’ve blogged several times about inflexible leave and attendance policies that are risky in terms of the ADA. Yet, these types of policies are still prevalent among large corporations.
The EEOC filed suit against AT&T Corp., a leader in telecommunication services, for its no fault attendance policy because it failed to reasonably accommodate a long-term employee’s disability and then fired her because of that disability.
According to the EEOC’s suit, an employee, who worked for AT&T Corp. as a customer service representative since 1984, requested a reasonable accommodation in the form of a finite leave of absence in order to receive interferon treatment for Hepatitis C. Without the treatment, her disease could have eventually been fatal. Upon learning of her disability and need for a leave of absence, AT&T granted her leave request.
So, the employee was on an approved, paid medical leave of absence from June 24 to Oct. 24, 2010. Her doctor determined the treatment was successful and released her to return to work without restriction. Two days later, AT&T fired her, claiming her use of approved leave to receive life-saving treatment violated its no-fault attendance policy.
This just doesn’t make sense. Where’s the disconnect? Who missed the ADA training? Didn’t anyone review the situation before the employee was fired?
EEOC said AT&T refused to provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation by exempting her leave of absence from its no-fault attendance policy. Such alleged conduct violates the ADA. The lawsuit seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and reinstatement or front pay for this employee, as well as injunctive relief, including a court order prohibiting AT&T from failing to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees by counting absences caused by their disability as “chargeable,” or unprotected, absences under its attendance policy.
“The refusal of AT&T to make a perfectly reasonable exception to its draconian attendance policy to accommodate the known disability of an employee violated federal law as well as common sense and common decency,” said EEOC trial attorney Patrick Holman. Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office, added, “This employer’s conduct is precisely what Congress had in mind when enacting the ADA. The very essence of reasonable accommodation is making exceptions to hard-and-fast rules in circumstances like this when to do so causes no undue hardship to the employer – and failing to do so might cause grave harm. AT&T’s actions here were not only baffling, but downright cruel.”
It’s been 22 years since the ADA was signed into law. Companies are facing increased penalties for failing to comply with employment requirements of the law. If you need assistance in customizing training for your personnel OR in determining if your company’s policies might unintentionally discriminate against workers with disabilities, contact Springboard.
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.