The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission plans to take a new look at the use of leave as a reasonable accommodation at a public meeting next week.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, allowing an employee to take disability leave (provided it doesn't cause undue hardship) can be a reasonable accommodation.
But the details can be tricky. For example, many employers require employees on leave to return to work within a set period of time, like six months or a year, or face termination. The EEOC has asserted such blanket policies violate the ADA, and that employers should try to work out an accommodation with each individual employee.
In recent years, it's been a hot area of litigation. The EEOC in 2009 settled a landmark case against Sears Roebuck & Co. for a record $6.2 million, alleging that the company’s leave policy violated the ADA. The EEOC charged that hundreds of Sears employees who had taken workers' compensation leave were fired, and that Sears failed to seriously consider reasonable accommodations to return them to work or whether a brief extension of leave would make their return possible.
In January, the EEOC won a $3.2 million settlement from supermarket chain Supervalu/ Jewel Osco. The chain had a policy of terminating employees at the end of medical leaves of absence rather than bringing them back to work with reasonable accommodations. Approximately 1,000 employees of the defendants’ Jewel-Osco stores in the greater Chicago area were allegedly terminated under this policy since 2003, the EEOC said.
At the upcoming meeting on June 8, John Hendrickson, head of the EEOC's Chicago office that brought the Supervalu case, will testify, as will Christopher Kuczynski, assistant legal council.
A second panel will feature Brian East, a senior attorney atTexas Disability Rights; Claudia Center, the director of the Disability Rights Program at the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center; Ellen McLaughlin, a partner, at Seyfarth Shaw; and Edward Isler, a partner at Isler Dare Ray Radcliffe & Connolly.