It is common for employers to have inflexible return-to-work policies that require employees to return to work immediately following the exhaustion of their workers’ compensation leaves, or else face termination. But common does not mean legal; just ask the EEOC. In September, the EEOC received a $62 million settlement from Sears, Roebuck and Co. for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. Sears utilized a workers’ compensation leave exhaustion policy whereby employees who failed to return to work upon the expiration of their leaves were summarily terminated. The EEOC sued the retail giant, claiming it should have considered whether additional leave would have been a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
According to Regional Attorney John Hendrickson of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, “[t]he era of employers being able to inflexibly and universally apply a leave limits policy without seriously considering the reasonable accommodation requirements of the ADA are over.” This settlement represents the biggest in EEOC history regarding the ADA.
Employers would be wise to review their leave policies in light of the EEOC’s stance. If your policy is inflexible, change it now. Even if it is not, make sure those who apply it understand their ADA obligations with respect to reasonable accommodations. Manager training in this area is always a good idea.