ADA Expands Definition of “Disability” Increasing Wrongful Termination Suits

San Diego Labor Law AttorneyDue to the expanded definition of the term “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, employers have been receiving an increasing number of requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Most common of these requests are leaves of absence or changes to the employee’s schedule. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and courts recognize that use of accrued paid leave or additional, unpaid time off from work may be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Employers have several ways to accommodate employee requests for time away from work. For example, they can allow the employee to use accrued paid-time-off benefits like paid vacation or sick time. The employee can use the unpaidFamily and Medical Leave Act during leave while also using accrued paid-time-off benefits, or receive payments from a disability or workers’ compensation benefits plan at the same time. The employer can also provide paid or unpaid leave according to company policy. All of these efforts are usually viewed as a form of reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Often, employers mistakenly believe that their accommodation obligation ends once these efforts have been exhausted. Recently, this mistaken belief has been challenged by the EEOC, and at a very high cost to employers.

In 2009 a retailer settled for $6.2 million after the EEOC challenged the company policy to terminate all employees that had not returned to work after 12 months of being out on disability due to workers compensation claims.

A national communications company also settled for $20million after the EEOC alleged they had violated the ADA by holding the employees accountable for all their absences due to their disabilities. The company would fire the employees for excessive absences even though those absences were directly related to their disability.

Recently a Grocery Store Chain also settled at $3.2million after the EEOC disputed the employer’s policy of terminating employees at the end of a fixed medical leave period instead of allowing the employees to return to work with reasonable accommodations.

Lastly, the EEOC Challenged a national airline company regarding its company policy to not issue reduced work schedules for any of the employees. Instead, the company required employees to either take a leave of absence or to take early retirement. The company eventually settled as well.

In short, regardless of what your company policy is you may be entitled to further accommodation of your disability. If you have been terminated or are being asked to resign due to your disability, you should contact an experienced labor law attorney to examine your case.
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