How Does the ADAAA Protect Me If I Need Additional Time Off from Work for My Medical Condition?
California workers often need time off to deal with a medical illness or disability. There are a number of state and federal laws protecting a worker’s right to take a certain amount of paid and unpaid medical leave. Some employers may also offer additional leave through employment agreements and written policies.
But even if you are not eligible for any of the types of leave outlined above, employers with 15 or more employees are still obligated under the federal law, Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended (ADAAA) to make “reasonable accommodation” for a documented physical or mental disability. The California state law, Fair Employment and Housing Act, contains similar requirements, but applies to employers with 5 or more employees. This means that if you need additional time off to care/treat for your condition, your employer is required to engage in a good-faith “interactive process” to try and reach a mutually acceptable accommodation. Your employer cannot simply hide behind its own written policies as grounds for denying you additional leave (such as saying, sorry, our policy is 2 weeks off work, no exceptions).
EEOC Lawsuit Accuses Hawaii Company of Using Attendance Policy to “Screen Out Individuals with Disabilities”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging one such employer’s attempts to maintain what the government described as an “inflexible” leave policy. The lawsuit, EEOC v. Oceanic Time Warner Cable, LLC, alleges the defendant–a Hawaii cable company known as Spectrum–has “routinely denied leave” for ADA-protected employees and “imposed attendance-related qualification standards that tend to screen out individuals with disabilities.”
More specifically, the EEOC said Spectrum limits the number of “unexcused” absences an employee may take before they are automatically fired. Although this policy excludes certain types of legally protected leave, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, it does not account for the “reasonable accommodation” or “interactive process” requirements of the ADAAA. As a result, the EEOC said a number of employees have been illegally fired for “excessive disability-related absences.”
For instance, the EEOC pointed to the example of a former customer care representative who worked for Spectrum for approximately nine months. The employee “suffered from spinal stenosis and slipped discs,” which affected his “ability to turn his head to the right and ability to stand or sit for long periods of time.” After taking a three-month leave of absence, which was protected under Spectrum’s union contract, the employee informed the company he needed more time off to address his sitting and standing problems. Spectrum refused, and although the employee attempted to return to work, he was soon forced to take additional time off “when he could no longer handle the pain.” The EEOC said that instead of “engaging the interactive process” to accommodate the employee’s need for additional leave, Spectrum simply fired him.
Is Your Employer Following the Law?
If you are having issues in your own workplace and believe your employer’s policies may violate the law, you should speak with a qualified California employment law attorney right away.