ADA Violations & Reasonable Accommodations
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it has filed suit against a poultry plant, Wayne Farms, alleging the company's attendance policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The company's attendance policy allegedly required the mandatory termination of an employee who accumulated more than 9 occurrences in 12 months.
This announcement is yet another warning by the EEOC that policies suggesting automatic termination after a certain number of absences violates the ADA. It is also a reminder that issues involving the ADA remain one of the six national priorities identified by EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) as the Commission continues to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law.
This class action suit started with complaints made by two employees, Latonya Hodges and Salvadora Roman. The Complaint alleges that Hodges missed work because of her asthma and was ultimately terminated in 2011 per violations of the attendance policy. The Complaint also mentions Salvadora Roman, an employee who missed work because of her Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Roman assumed she was terminated after she hit 10 occurrences, and quit coming to work in 2012. According to the Complaint, Wayne Farms should have offered both employees “flexibility in its attendance policy or other reasonable accommodations”, including leave or transfers.
Wayne Farms' Attendance Policy
The EEOC alleges that Wayne Farm's attendance policy “applies to all absences, including absences caused by an employee's disability unless 1) the employee is granted leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or 2) is granted leave for holidays, pre-approved vacations, death in the immediate family, court subpoena as a witness, jury duty, pre-approved medical leave of absence, military leave, worker's compensation disability, pre-approved personal leave and pre-approved appointments with Government agencies.”
The EEOC claims that once an employee accrues ten absences within a year, even if the employee has an excuse that the absence was related to a disability, that employee is automatically terminated under Wayne Farms' policy. According to the EEOC's reading of the policy, it “in effect, acts as a qualification standard, employment test or other selection criteria that screens out or tends to screen out individuals with disabilities and is not job-related or consistent with business necessary, in violation of” the ADA.
Per the EEOC news release, “such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that private employers provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities, absent undue hardship, and prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. “The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations, including time off, to workers with disabilities,” said the director of EEOC's Birmingham District Office. “Attendance policies that categorically limit an employee's absences, without consideration of the individual circumstances of disabled employees, can run afoul of federal law.” According to news reports, Wayne Farms intends to vigorously defend this class action.
Employers across the country are advised to review their attendance policies, paying special attention to language that refers to “automatic termination” based on attendance. In some cases the ADA requires employers to provide leave as a reasonable accommodation. The experienced California employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley can quickly answer your questions about the ADA, disability discrimination, or any of California's employment laws. To discuss these laws, or a potential claim on your behalf, feel free to call us toll-free at (888) 500-8469 or click here to contact us via email.