Absolute "Return To Work" Deadline An Absolute Headache For Employer In ADA Lawsuit Against The EEOC


A federal judge in Chicago recently ruled that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can pursue its class-wide claim challenging an employer's policy of discharging employees who can't return to work after a specified period of leave. In this case, the EEOC had alleged that the employer engaged in a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring employees on disability leave to return to work after twelve months or be terminated.  The employer argued that regular attendance was an essential function of the job, and, thus, its policy and actions did not violate the ADA.  The court held that the employer's policy may be an unlawful qualification standard under the ADA because it could amount to an impermissible selection criteria or qualification because it screens out or tends to screen out individuals with disabilities.  (The court has not yet ruled on the merits of the case, but did indicate that the case states a plausible claim against the employer.)  In various public arenas, John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago, has commented that employers should be less focused on the amount of time an employee is on leave and be more focused on asking how the employer can get such an employee back to work with a reasonable accommodation.  This case and Mr. Hendrickson's comments reiterate the focus of the EEOC on ADA claims, especially those that have class-wide impact, as well as on the dangers of employers having policies that do not take into consideration an individualized assessment of an employee's particular circumstances.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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