A grocery chain agreed to pay $3.2 million to settle 110 former employees' lawsuits claiming that the company applied an inflexible, overly rigid policy regarding disability leave. The EEOC recently announced an Illinois federal court's approval of the settlement agreement.
The lawsuit, EEOC v. Supervalu Inc., (http://tinyurl.com/65e5jqd) alleged that the company terminated multiple employees after their approved medical leaves had expired. According to the EEOC, the company required employees to prove that they were 100-percent able to carry out their job duties before returning to work. The EEOC argued that this requirement violated the ADA (http://www.ada.gov/) because it did not provide for an individualized analysis of each employee's situation in order to determine whether each employee could return to work with reasonable accommodations. The lawsuit also alleged that the company discriminated against disabled employees because it did not allow employees to take advantage of a company-sponsored “light-duty” program unless they were injured on the job. In addition to the monetary payout, the settlement terms also require the company to change its leave policies to comply with the “individualized analysis” requirement and to communicate with all employees out on leave in order to assess their ability to return to work.
Regardless of whether the allegations were ultimately true, this case highlights the perils of applying rigid policies with regard to employee leave. Further, this area is likely to remain one of aggressive enforcement — the EEOC's spokesperson confirmed that the agency is currently conducting additional investigations of employers on this same issue.
Employers should review their policies to ensure compliance with the ADA's requirement of an individualized analysis of each possibly disabled employee's situation. When it comes to the ADA, instead of utilizing “one-size-fits-all” policies, fully exploring potential accommodations for each employee is required (http://tinyurl.com/5svna4j).