We know that the landscape of the American workforce has changed dramatically—now more than ever, workers are caring for children or the elderly, juggling work with school or retirement, or working more than one job to make ends meet. The workplace is starting to meet the needs of the 21st century workforce by increasing flex options so that working families and businesses can be more productive, more competitive, healthier, and happier. Yet, this concept, when applied to employees with disabilities, seems to elude employers.
In yet another example, an employee who has seizures was fired rather than provided a workplace support (reasonable accommodation in ADA terms). This particular company owns and operates convenience stores in 10 states, including Arkansas and Mississippi, and collectively employs more than 700 people.
Because her doctor restricted her from driving, the employee requested that another worker be allowed to conduct daily competitor gasoline price surveys while she handled that employee's in-store duties. The company denied her request and fired her...and now will pay $190,000 to settle a disability lawsuit. Denying a workplace support (accommodation) to individuals with disabilities that’s reasonable and doesn’t cause an undue hardship on the employer violates the ADA.
With continued economic struggles and unemployment rates across the country still very high, we might see an increase in ADA lawsuits. Why? People are afraid they may not be able to find new employment and when terminated, will explore litigation as an option. It’s important to have a plan for how your frontline managers will handle requests for workplace supports, including those deemed to be requests for reasonable accommodation by individuals with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations allow many individuals with disabilities to work. Employers should understand their obligation to provide an employee with a reasonable accommodation unless it poses an undue hardship.
Side note: In addition to the payment, the terms of the settlement require that the companies create a disability policy in its employee handbook for distribution to all its employees; provide for training under the ADA; maintain records of any disability complaints; provide reports to the EEOC; and post a notice to employees about the lawsuit that includes the EEOC’s contact information.
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.