Most employers know they can’t refuse to hire someone just because the individual has a disability. That is clearly discrimination and a violation of the ADA. The law requires an employer to provide a workplace support (reasonable accommodation) to enable the worker to do the job...unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense (undue hardship) for the employer. However, some companies still don’t get it. EEOC recently sued Tyson Foods, Inc., one of the world’s largest processors of chicken, beef and pork, for refusing to hire a former employee for an open maintenance job because he had epilepsy.
People with epilepsy successfully perform all types of jobs, yet employers all too often wrongly assume that people with epilepsy automatically should be excluded from certain jobs. For example, many employers believe that anyone with epilepsy cannot safely operate certain types of machinery, drive, or use computers. Some employers are also afraid to hire individuals with epilepsy because they’re concerned about higher workplace insurance rates or believe that employees with epilepsy will use a lot of sick leave. Workplace insurance rates, however, are determined by how hazardous the type of work is and by an employer's overall claims record in the past, not by the physical condition of individual employees. There is no evidence that people with epilepsy are more prone to accidents on the job than anyone else. Furthermore, because medications usually can control seizures for most people, they do not need to take time off from work because of their epilepsy.
In this particular situation, the employee’s epilepsy was controlled by medication for twelve years and he had been previously employed by Tyson on two occasions during this time period. When Tyson instituted a new medical assessment procedure since last hiring this individual, the company refused to hire him for an open maintenance job because he did not pass a medical evaluation required for applicants with epilepsy to determine whether he could safely perform the job. In fact, the doctor, who performed the evaluation for the company, didn’t examine the former employee, but relied on outdated medical research in determining that he could not safely perform the job. To make matters worse, EEOC discovered that Tyson had several other workers with epilepsy in its workforce.
Do your policies and practices provide employees with disabilities a full and fair opportunity to succeed and compete in your workplace? Learn more about successful corporate disability initiatives by attending Springboard’s 6th annual Disability Matters Awards Banquet & Conference to be held on April 18-19, 2012 in Newark, N.J.
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.