The EEOC announced on 6/30/17 that Sensient Natural Ingredients, a division of Sensient Technologies, has agreed to pay up to $800,000 and also provide other significant relief to settle a charge of disability discrimination based on an inflexible leave/no restrictions policy. According to the EEOC, employees were either discharged for surpassing the company’s restrictive leave policy or were required to return to work without accommodations or restrictions. The EEOC also contended that when employees attempted to return to work even without restrictions, the company refused to accept them back and fired them instead.
As part of the consent decree with the EEOC, Sensient will pay $600,000 to a class of 8 claimants and $200,000 for a contingent class fund that will be distributed if other claimants come forward. In addition to the monetary relief, Sensient also agreed to the designation of an internal equal employment opportunity monitor to review and revise, as necessary, the company’s policies against disability discrimination, retaliation and its reasonable accommodation policies. Sensient further agreed to distribute the revised policies to all employees, to provide training for both employees and management personnel, and to designate an internal ADA coordinator who will assist the company in maintaining records. The EEOC will monitor Sensient’s compliance for three years.
Lessons for employers? Three words: Accommodate, accommodate, accommodate. As I noted in another recent post, under the Trump administration, the EEOC has identified that redressing inflexible leave/no restrictions policies is one of its top priorities. Employers may need to allow employees more leave beyond, for example, the 12 week FMLA period, on a reasonable basis. Employers also should permit return-to-work – and stay-at-work – accommodations and may not require that employees be released “without restrictions” before permitting return to work. Employers should also review their policies and make sure that they have a compliant reasonable accommodation policy and process.