Employers considering terminating the employment of employees not ready to resume their usual duties when their eligibility for medical leave ends under the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or other leave policies should first consider whether the employee qualifies for accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. That’s the message transmitted by a new Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit against ValleyLife of Phoenix, Arizona.
In EEOC v. ValleyLife, the EEOC charges that ValleyLife engaged in illegal disability discrimination in violation of the ADA when it allegedly fired employees with disabilities instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations when their eligibility for family leave ended under the FMLA and allegedly failed to keep employees’ medical records confidential. See EEOC v. ValleyLife, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-00340-GMS (N.Az).
According to the lawsuit, ValleyLife fired employees with disabilities rather than provide them with reasonable accommodations due to its inflexible leave policy. The policy compelled the termination of employees who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave to which they were eligible under the FMLA. In its complaint, for instance, the EEOC alleges that ValleyLife fired supervisor, Glenn Stephens, due to his need for further surgery when his FMLA leave was exhausted. EEOC claims this termination violated the ADA because ValleyLife did not engage in any interactive process to determine whether any accommodations (including additional leave) were possible. Stephens had worked for ValleyLife for over ten years at the time of his termination. The EEOC contends that ValleyLife’s failure to offer extended leave or other accommodation to Stephens when his leave eligibility ended violated the ADA, which protects workers from discrimination based upon disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental impairments of disabled employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.
The suit also alleges that ValleyLife commingled medical records in employee personnel files and failed to maintain these medical records confidential in violation of the medical record confidentiality requirements of the ADA, which requires employees’ to keep medical documents confidential and separate from other personnel records.
The lawsuit seeks lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged victims, as well as appropriate injunctive relief to prevent discriminatory practices in the future.
Prepare Employment Discrimination Defenses
The EEOC suit against ValleyLife sends a message to employers of the need to use care to monitor and manage ADA and other disability discrimination risks at the end of a FMLA or other medical leave. Employers assume at their own peril that their responsibility to an employee ends when an employee is unable to or fails to return to work following a FMLA or other medical leave. Instead, the employer should evaluate whether the affected employee qualifies as disabled under the ADA and if so, whether the employer has any responsibility to offer the employee an extended leave or other accommodations before terminating the employee.
Employers also should consider reviewing and updating their current FMLA and other leave policies and communications to incorporate appropriate accommodation offer and administration procedures and notices, as well as other processes to ensure that these practices are operationalized in a manner to create and keep appropriate documentation to defend staffing decisions against potential claims of illegal discrimination under the ADA, Civil Rights, or other laws that could trigger ADA or other discrimination charges. Employers should keep in mind that an evidentiary doctrine known as the “after acquired evidence rule” makes it important to properly document analysis and decision-making before an employment action is taken to help ensure that critical evidence of employer intention necessary to defend discrimination claims will not be excluded or compromised in the event of litigation.
For Advice, Training & Other Resources
Should your business need legal advice about the taxability of or other requirements on tips, gratuities or other compensation, assistance assessing or resolving potential past or existing compliance exposures, or monitoring and responding to these or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.
Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, Co-Chair and Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plans Committee, an ABA Joint Committee On Employee Benefits Council representative, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, ABA, and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years’ experience advising health plan and employee benefit, insurance, financial services, employer and health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health plans and insurers about ACA, and a wide range of other plan design, administration, data security and privacy and other compliance risk management policies. Ms. Stamer also regularly represents clients and works with Congress and state legislatures, EBSA, IRS, EEOC, OCR and other HHS agencies, state insurance and other regulators, and others. She also publishes and speaks extensively on health and other employee benefit plan and insurance, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, privacy, regulatory and public policy and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.
You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of the Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile www.cynthiastamer.com or by registering to receive these and other updates here. Recent examples of these updates include:
- New Opportunity To Share Your Input With HHS About How To Improve Healthcare
- IRS Updates Procedures For 403(b) Opinions & Approvals
- 3/6 ABA Study Group Conference Call Explores ACA Employer Compliance Challenges Hot Topics
- Businesses Should Verify Proper Tracking, Withholding & Reporting On Tips & Gratuities
- Tell Congress to protect wellness programs against EEOC attacks
- Stay Connected Update Your Contact Information
- Stamer Recognized As A “Top” Labor & Employment Lawyer
- Advance Copies Of 2014 Form 5500s Reminder To Avoid Penalties By Confirming Compliance
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- TEGE Counsel To Assume Responsibility For Employee Plans, Exempt Orgs & IRA Technical Guidance in 2015
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- Tell Senate To Pass Fix To ACA’s Full-Time Employee Definition
- Check Out Updated Kaiser Calculator For 2015 Zip Code-Specific Premium and Tax Credit Estimates for Health Marketplace Coverage Coverage
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- Stamer Kicks Off Dallas HR 2015 Monthly Lunch Series With 2015 Federal Legislative, Regulatory & Enforcement Update
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NOTE: This article is provided for educational purposes. It is does not establish any attorney-client relationship nor provide or serve as a substitute for legal advice to any individual or organization. Readers must engage properly qualified legal counsel to secure legal advice about the rules discussed in light of specific circumstances.
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