In July 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a consent decree involving claims of disability discrimination against a metal products manufacturer. According to the EEOC, this manufacturer violated the law when it: 1) awarded attendance points to employees regardless of the reason for absence, and 2) automatically terminated employees who did not return to work after taking extended leave.
Regarding #1, the EEOC explained that this blind points system meant that employees taking leave for ADA or FMLA reasons would be improperly penalized.
Regarding #2, the employer was intending to be more generous to employees by allowing 180 days of leave instead of the 12 weeks required by the FMLA. But the employer also had a blanket policy of terminating any employee who did not return to work after 180 days. The EEOC said that this blanket policy did not take into consideration individual circumstances, like the possibility that an ADA accommodation was needed for an employee exceeding 180 days.
In addition to monetary penalties, the manufacturer was ordered to reinstate affected employees, appoint an ADA coordinator, revise its policies, create and maintain an accommodation log, post a notice for employees on the matter, implement training on the ADA for all employees, develop a centralized tracking system for accommodation requests, and submit annual reports to the EEOC verifying compliance with the decree.
When crafting attendance and leave policies, it is wise to always keep the ADA in mind. Remember that blanket policies (even those intending to benefit employees) could undercut an employee’s rights under the ADA or FMLA. Employers should also remember that even an employee who does not expressly state that they need leave or accommodations under FMLA or the ADA might need those protections, and anything that alerted or should have alerted the employer (or a supervisory employee) about an ADA right, can trigger it. Using blanket policies can be dangerous when they do not consider these special circumstances.