January 20, 2022
When Good Intentions Go Awry
Employers with good intentions may have their well-intended words used against them. In this case, the U.S. EEOC reports that an employee had missed several days of work due to a sudden illness. She informed management that she had been hospitalized and was undergoing testing for cancer. The employer granted her time off from work but fired her a day before her anticipated return. Her termination letter advised her to “focus on her health.”
I cannot speak to the intentions of the employer in this case. But I have heard similar stories from many employers. With good intentions, we tell employees to take time off from work and take care of themselves. Those well-intended words then come back to bite us when the employer discovers the work can get done without the employee, or they fill the position while the employee is out. When the employee has no job, it looks like the employer might not have wanted the employee to return because it at least perceived the employee to have a disability. That violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which generally covers employers with 15 or more employees.
Lessons Learned. In this case, the matter was settled for $150,000. But that was not all! The employer also had to:
- implement policies and procedures to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities;
- retain an ADA consultant;
- submit any leave-based terminations for a secondary review;
- provide annual training to certain managers and human resource personnel (!); and
- submit reports to the EEOC during the decree’s three-year term.
Note #2: This was a joint employer case. The umbrella company was d/b/a two other entities. One of those two and the umbrella company were both held liable. If you are an employer with affiliated entities, talk to your legal counsel. Take steps to ensure you have the structure in place to avoid any unintended inference that two or more entities are joint employers.