In 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.
Can your employees participate in a wellness program through work? Do you offer financial incentives for participating in the program? If so, listen up.
In April, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued proposed regulations focusing on how the American with Disabilities Act applies to corporate wellness programs. The proposed regulations give some guidance on how to legally use financial incentives to encourage workers to participate in such programs.
Although Title I of the ADA generally prohibits employers from obtaining medical information from employees, it allows employers to give medical examinations to employees and ask about their health if they are part of a voluntary “employee health program.” Before the proposed regulations, the EEOC had not yet determined whether employers could offer financial incentives to encourage employees to participate in such programs or whether offering incentives would make participation involuntary. The new proposed regulations answer these questions — according to the EEOC, employers may offer incentives up to 30% of the cost of the employee-only coverage to employees who participate in a wellness program and/or achieve certain health outcomes.
The proposed regulations (http://www.regulations.gov), in most pertinent part:
- Define an “employee health program;”
- Set forth the requirements that must be met for a program to be considered “voluntary;”
- Detail the 30% of cost incentive limit; and
- Set forth additional confidentiality requirements of information gathered during participation in wellness programs.
Although these regulations are only proposed and may or may not go into effect as written in the near future, we suggest that you review your wellness programs and corresponding financial incentives in light of the regulations. Please note that under existing laws – even before the introduction of the proposed regulations – you cannot:
- Require employees to participate in a wellness program;
- Deny health insurance to employees who do not participate in the program;
- Take any adverse employment action or retaliate against, interfere with, coerce, or intimidate employees who do not participate in the program; or
- Deny employees with disabilities reasonable accommodations that allow them to participate in a wellness program and receive any related incentives.
On Friday, the EEOC filed suit against AutoZone, alleging that the car repair company violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by applying its attendance policy in a way that failed to accommodate certain disability-related absences. This is the EEOC’s fourth disability discrimination case against AutoZone in the last 5 years.
Under AutoZone’s policy, employees received points for absences, with 12 points resulting in termination. According to the EEOC, the policy did not make any allowances for disability-related absences (such as early departures by a diabetic employee who had insulin reactions), which the EEOC has alleged constituted a failure to accommodate.
Employers often — wrongly — assume that the fact that an employee doesn’t qualify for (or has exhausted) FMLA leave means that he can be terminated for his absences. However, if the reason for the absence relates to the employee’s medical condition, it’s critical that the absence be considered under an ADA reasonable accommodation analysis as well.