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Automatic Termination for Excessive Leave Was ADA violation

by Adair Melinsky Buckner on Feb. 08, 2013

Employment Employment Discrimination Employment  Labor Law 

Summary: Company policy that provided for automatic termination after extended amount of leave found to violate Americans with Disabilities Act

Automatic Termination Policy Costs Nationwide Trucking Firm Nearly $5 Million

 To Settle Disability Discrimination Suit

 

A large trucking firm will pay $4.85 million and provide other significant relief to settle a nationwide class disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) because of its maximum leave policy.

Under the challenged leave policy, if an employee needed more than 12 weeks of leave, the Company automatically terminated him or her.  The Company even refused to allow exceptions for an employee who could have returned with restrictions.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) the employer should have considered whether there were reasonable accommodations that would allow the employee to return to work with restrictions. Further, the EEOC said the Company should have determined if it would be reasonable to provide additional leave as an accommodation.

The ADA requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation, such as paid or unpaid leave or some modifications to the job functions or reassignment, to an employee with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.  This Employer did not even consider such options.  Its policy and practice were to apply a knee-jerk reaction at the end of 12 weeks--return to work with no restrictions or be terminated.

The employer here not only has to pay $4.85 million in monetary relief, the three-year decree includes injunctions against engaging in any further discrimination or retaliation based on disability, and requires the company to revise its policies to include reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  It also must provide mandatory periodic training on the ADA to employees and post a notice about the settlement.

The EEOC field director involved said, "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."

Employers, review your leave policies to eliminate automatic termination for failure to return after a certain length of leave for illness or injury, failure to return without restrictions, or other automatic terminations based on extended leave.  Disability discrimination can be implied from failing to consider possible accommodations, including granting additional leave unless you can show undue hardship because of it!

Adair Buckner is an Amarillo attorney with Buckner & Cross, L.L.P.  She is Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Her other areas of practice include business law, business disputes, commercial litigation, estate planning, and probate. You can reach Adair at (806)-322-7777 or adair@bucknercross-law.com. This material is not intended to be legal advice. The contents are intended for general information purposes only.

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