Court Holds Extended Leave Is Not An Accommodation Under the ADA

fmlaIn a very employer-friendly decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not give employees the right to take an extended leave of absence.

In Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., the 7th court considered a discrimination claim brought by an employee who was fired when his 12 weeks of FMLA-protected leave for a pre-existing back condition expired and he was still unable to return to work. The employee claimed that his firing violated the Americans with ADA because the “at least two additional months” that he needed to recover from surgery after his FMLA leave ended was a “reasonable accommodation.” The 7th Circuit strongly disagreed, holding that the employee’s proposed accommodation of at least two additional months of leave was not reasonable. According to the Court, the ADA “is an anti-discrimination statute, not a medical leave entitlement.”

This ruling is contrary to the position taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that multi-month leaves of absences may be required under the ADA. According the EEOC, leave or extended leave as a job accommodation should be considered when a worker’s doctor is able to estimate a specific endpoint for the leave, the employee asks for the leave ahead of time, and the leave will likely enable the employee to fully perform the job afterward.

In light of the decision in Severson, employers (especially those in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) can feel more comfortable refusing requests for multi-month and indefinite leave requests under the ADA. And while the language in Severson should apply to shorter leaves as well, its holding is limited to extended leaves, so employers still need to consider whether an employee’s request for a shorter leave (either after the expiration of an FMLA leave or if the employee did not qualify under the FMLA) would be a reasonable accommodation.

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Could the 2016 Overtime Regulations Come Back to Life?

600px-US-DeptOfLabor-Seal_svgIt seems like we spent the better part of 2016 getting ready to comply with the new overtime regulations that had been set to go into effect December 1, 2016 — until a federal judge in Texas issued a last-minute injunction.  The Texas court’s injunction meant that the new overtime standards — including a much higher minimum salary requirement — did not go into effect as planned, even though many employers had already made changes to comply with them. That injunction is currently being appealed before the 5th Circuit, but the new Department of Labor’s positioning in that appeal is raising the potential that the 2016 rules could come back to life — at least until a new, replacement rule can get through the rule making process.

The issue here is that while the new Secretary of Labor has taken steps toward revising the overtime regulations (with an eye toward making them more employer-friendly), the DOL has not asked the appellate court to uphold the injunction that was issued late last November.   This sets up a situation where the 5th Circuit could rule to dissolve the injunction — allowing the Obama administration’s rule to go into effect —  before the agency has a replacement rule ready via the regulatory process.

Were this to occur, it would create a very difficult situation for the DOL and employers alike. The current DOL would be charged with implementing a rule that it plans to do away with, and employers would have to figure out how to comply with a rule that will likely change in the near future.

We suggest that employers hold tight until more information is known. Given the last-minute nature of the injunction, many employers had already taken steps to comply with the new overtime rules before they were stayed, so if the injunction is dissolved, those employers should be able to pick the process back up where they left off.

It is not clear when the 5th Circuit will issue its decision on the fate of the regulations and injunction, but we will alert you when it does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 18th Deadline for Employers to use New Form I-9

United States FlagLast month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released a new version of the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form. Employers must use the new form starting September 18th. The new form includes some revisions to the instructions, as well as to the list of Acceptable Documents. For more information on the new form, please visit the USCIS website at https://www.uscis.gov.

DOL Withdraws Joint Employer, Independent Contractor Guidance

600px-US-DeptOfLabor-Seal_svgEarlier today, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced the withdrawal of the U.S. Department of Labor’s informal guidance on joint employment and independent contractors issued during the Obama administration. The announcement states that the withdrawal does not “change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act” and that the DOL “will continue to fully and fairly enforce all laws within its jurisdiction.” We will keep you updated on any additional word from the DOL on these issues, but it appears that by withdrawing these guidelines, the new administration is taking a first step away from attempts of the Obama administration and the NLRB to expand concepts of joint employment.

More Suburbs Considering Opting Out of Cook County Minimum Wage and Earned Sick Leave Ordinances

With the July 1st effective date quickly approaching, more and more suburban communities are opting out of the Cook County minimum wage hike and paid sick leave requirements. Home Rule authority allows these local municipalities to opt out of and craft their own legislation to supersede the county legislation.

Nearly 40 municipalities have officially opted out or are expected to do so before the July 1st effective date, including: Arlington Heights, Barrington, Bedford Park, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Elmwood Park, Glenview, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Oak Forest, Palatine, Palos Park, River Forest, Rolling Meadows, Rosemont, Schaumburg, Streamwood, Tinley Park, Western Springs, and Wheeling.

It’s important to note that even if an employee is based in a municipality that has “opted out,” if they are performing work in Chicago or a section of Cook County that hasn’t opted out, the employee may still have a right to some paid sick leave.

Before moving forward with changes to comply with these new Cook County requirements, make sure to check where your municipality stands.

 

 

7th Circuit Extends Title VII Protection To Sexual Orientation

gavelpictureYesterday, the Seventh Circuit became the first federal appeals court to extend protections of Title VII to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The decision gives an Indiana professor, as well as other gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, the right to sue under Title VII over discriminatory employment practices based on their sexual orientation. According to the Court, “… it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex …”

This landmark decision is critical support for the EEOC’s interpretation that Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  It also increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court will decide whether Title VII does, in fact, prohibit discrimination on these grounds.  Until the Supreme Court rules, however, employers in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana should consider the risk of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination claims under Title VII (in addition to claims under applicable state and local laws prohibiting such discrimination) when making employment decisions.  We will keep you posted on further developments relating to this issue.

 

 

Paid Sick Leave Coming in Q3

We’re only a few days into Q2, but we wanted to make sure that you’re prepared for a significant legal change that is effective at the beginning of Q3.  Starting July 1st, employees who work in Cook County will have a right to paid sick leave under the Cook County Earned Sick Leave Ordinance, the Chicago Paid Sick Leave Ordinance or both. 

On their surface, the requirements of the Ordinances seem pretty straightforward, leaving many companies to believe that their current PTO or sick leave policy meets the new standards.  However, most of the policies we’ve reviewed to date don’t meet all of the new standards.  This is largely because the Ordinances:

  • Apply to all employees – including part-time employees – who work at least 80 hours in any 120 day period.
  • Allow the employee to carryover up to 20 hours of paid sick leave into the next year (up to 60 for employers that are covered by the FMLA).
  • Require that paid sick leave may be used not just for the employee or a family member’s illness or injury, but also to seek medical care or to care for a family member, in the event that the employee or a family member is the victim of domestic violence, or in the event that the workplace or the employee’s child’s school or place of care is closed due to a public health emergency.
  • Provide that an employer can’t require a note unless the employee is out for more than 3 consecutive days or more.
  • Put limitations on the notice employers can require from employees, including allowing employees to provide last minute notice by phone, email or text.

There are also a couple provisions in the Ordinances that help employers – including capping accrual at 40 hours per year, capping use at 40 or 60 hours per year (depending on the size of the employer and the reason for leave), and not requiring payout on termination.  However, to take advantage of these employer-friendly provisions, it’s important to reflect them in your policy. 

Both Ordinances provide that employees who don’t receive the paid sick time the Ordinances require can file suit and collect triple damages.  We expect Plaintiffs’ attorneys to be out in force looking for potential class actions, so it is important that every company that employs workers in Cook County have their policy reviewed in advance of the July 1st implementation deadline.  Because of the number of sick leave policies we’ve already seen, we are able to review current policies and prepare compliant policies efficiently, on a flat fee basis.

Labor & Employment Practice Group Leader Laura Friedel is available for questions about how these ordinances might affect your company’s policies.