What Employers Should Understand about Disability Discrimination

Author: Stephen Hans

Business owners typically look from an employer’s perspective and fire employees who cannot do the job. For the most part, this line of reasoning is valid and especially if you have at-will employment, where the employer has the right to terminate an employee for any reason whatsoever. However, there are legal exceptions to the “whatsoever” conditions of at-will employment, and discrimination underpins the majority of these exceptions.

Firing an employee or not hiring an employee because of disability is a form of discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide:

  • Equal opportunity in selecting, testing and hiring qualified applicants with disabilities
  • Job accommodation for applicants and workers with disabilities when such accommodations would not impose “undue hardship”
  • Equal opportunity in promotions and benefits

Certainly, accommodating a worker who has a disability is harder than managing an employee who has no disability. Even so, this fact does not constitute undue hardship.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is bringing a lawsuit against Harrison Poultry and this lawsuit serves as a recent example of disability discrimination. The EEOC determined that Harrison Poultry discriminated against an employee with a disability who was on an approved leave. A physician diagnosed the employee with emphysema. Instead of granting an accommodation to the employee who requested a 12 day extension to his vacation so he could comply with doctor’s orders, the company fired him.

On behalf of the worker, the EEOC first attempted to settle with Harrison Poultry, but when unable to reach a settlement, the EEOC filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief to prevent future disability discrimination. The EEOC alleges that granting the extension would not have resulted in undue hardship on the company. In fact, as it turned out, the employee’s position was not filled again until three months later.

Litigation often makes time consuming demands on business owners. Understanding discrimination laws and consulting with an experienced employment litigation attorney can help employers avoid costly lawsuits and the lost production time involved with them. Stephen Hans & Associates brings decades of experience to every legal matter involving employment disputes.

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