EEOC v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

Decision: The EEOC successfully defeated a motion by United Parcel Service (UPS) to dismiss the EEOC’s second amended complaint challenging UPS’s policy of discharging employees who cannot return to work after 12 months of leave. The EEOC alleged that UPS's policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by establishing a 100-percent healed requirement that requires qualified individuals with a disability to return to work from their medical leave and to work without an additional accommodation.

In ruling on UPS’s motion to dismiss, the court rejected the company’s contention that the requirement is an attendance policy permissible under the ADA because regular attendance is an essential job function. Instead, the court held that the rule may be an unlawful qualification standard because it screens out, or tends to screen out, individuals with disabilities. The court based its ruling on the distinction in the EEOC’s ADA regulations between “qualification standards” and an “essential job function.” The regulations define qualification standards as “the personal and professional attributes including the skill, experience, education, physical, medical, safety and other requirements established by a covered entity as requirements which an individual must meet in order to be eligible for the position held or desired” whereas an essential job function is defined as “the fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires.” According to the court, “Because [UPS’s 100-percent healed] requirement falls within the definition of a ‘qualification standard,' and the EEOC has alleged that the policy applies to qualified individuals with disabilities, the EEOC may proceed on its § 12112(b)(6) claim.”

Impact: This case serves as an important reminder that an employer’s duty under the ADA, when it comes to qualified individuals with disabilities, is to engage in an interactive process that seeks to determine whether reasonable accommodations are needed in order for an employee to return to work and perform the job’s essential functions. Return-to-work policies that do not consider reasonable accommodations may draw scrutiny from the EEOC as an attempt to circumvent this duty. Employers should regularly review their leave policies to ensure that the policies meet the particular business’s needs and comply with the law.