2016 has come to an end and it’s been busy year for disability leave management issues. The year has seen a variety of new developments, including issuance of additional guidance from administrative agencies, new leave and benefit related laws, and a slew of court opinions. Here is a summary of some of the highlights from the year:
In the spring of 2016, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued new rules for Employer Wellness Programs. These rules immediately became the subject of litigation. The summer saw the issuance of enforcement guidance on the subject of retaliation, including retaliation against employees who request reasonable accommodations for a disability. Finally, in November and December of 2016, the EEOC issued resource and guidance documents on the subjects of mental health disabilities in applicants and employees.
On the subject of sick leave, Oregon became the newest state to adopt a state-wide sick leave law, joining California, Connecticut and Massachusetts. These states are soon to be joined by Vermont (January 1, 2017), Arizona (July 1, 2017) and Washington (January 1, 2018). In addition, cities and counties across the country, from San Diego, California to Chicago, Illinois to Morristown, New Jersey enacted sick leave laws that either took effect or are expected to take effect in 2017. Even the federal government adopted a sick leave requirement for government contractors that will apply to new solicitations and contracts beginning January 1, 2017.
While sick leaves laws continued to rise, some states have continued to enact legislation to prevent local agencies from adopting local sick leave laws. North Carolina and Arizona joined Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and others in enacting preemptive legislation to avoid the patchwork issues that have cropped in states where individual cities have enacted individual ordinances.
Benefits for Those on Leave
Paid parental leave was a hot topic and is expected to only get hotter in 2017. New York adopted a paid family leave law that will provide employees with up to 12-weeks of wage replacement benefits. The City of San Francisco adopted an ordinance providing wage replacement benefits for employees taking time off to bond with a new child. And ending the year with bang, on December 26, 2016, Washington, D.C, enacted significant changes to its paid leave laws to provide employees with up to eight weeks of paid time off to bond with a new child, up to six weeks of paid time off to care for a sick relative and up to two weeks of paid time off when they are sick.
Notable Court Decisions
Not to be left behind, courts across the country issued decisions that will impact how employers respond to requests for accommodations from disabled employees and applicants. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that held that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require that employers provide a disabled employee with a noncompetitive reassignment as an accommodation. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an employee can establish causation for a disability discrimination claim if the employee can show that a discriminatory intent contributed in any way to an adverse employment action. And courts in California further expanded disability related protections, finding that an employer’s denial of an accommodation to a nondisabled employee may serve as evidence of association discrimination under State and that an employee who was seeking medical treatment in connection with an asymptomatic tumor was potentially disabled.