On April 19, my colleague Andrew Bernstein and I will be discussing the increasingly complex web of federal, state, and local leave and accommodation laws that employers must navigate. As many companies are aware, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks (and in some cases, up to 26 weeks) of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees and the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, which may under some circumstances include flexible schedules and leaves of absence, to qualified individuals with disabilities.
As our readers know, we have been monitoring decisions regarding the ability of employers to take disciplinary action against employees for using marijuana at work (like this decision here). The most recent high court to weigh in on this topic is the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which looked at whether an employer may violate that state’s anti-discrimination law when it fires an employee because of a failed drug test based on the employee’s use of medical marijuana. The Court concluded that employers must accommodate medical marijuana users in the normal course under these circumstances to avoid a violation of that law. We discuss this important new decision – Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC – below.
The growing prevalence of the Zika virus in the United States has already presented a number of hurdles for employers striving to create a safe and healthy workplace environment for their employees. These concerns are more immediate than ever. The recent and continuing outbreak in Florida and the emergence of state-to-state transmission within the U.S. reinforce the need for employers to stay informed of best practices for minimizing workplace health risks without overstepping critical legal boundaries between employer and employee.
The obligation to accommodate a disabled employee is an ongoing one; a doctor’s note may not be a prerequisite to engage in the interactive process – those are two important lessons that employers should take away from a recent decision by a California Federal district court.
Last month, a California state appellate court issued a decision that, as the dissent characterized, went “where no one has gone before.” In Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., the court held that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – California’s anti-discrimination law – requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to a nondisabled employee who associates with a disabled person. This troubling and broad interpretation of the law, which effectively would import a caregiver accommodation requirement into the law, has certainly captured the attention of employers even outside this jurisdiction.
As a recent federal appellate decision confirmed, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require employers to always accommodate a disabled employee. Instead, it is the employee’s burden to first show that he or she can perform the essential functions of the job with said accommodation. Alternatively, if the employee cannot perform the essential functions of the job, he or she may seek, as a reasonable accommodation, a reassignment to a vacant position as long as the employee is qualified for that position. In both cases, the employer is relieved of the accommodation requirement if it can show an undue hardship would result. It was these essential function and vacancy issues that were the focus of the First Circuit’s opinion in Lang v. Wal-Mart Stores.
The Western District of Washington recently emphasized that the obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to engage in good faith interactive dialogue when seeking an accommodation that will permit an employee with a disability to perform his or her job applies to employees as well as employers. In Huge v Boeing Co. (W.D. Wash. March 4, 2016), following a bench trial the court found the employee had failed to present evidence that her employer, Boeing Co., did not take reasonable measures to accommodate her Asperger’s Syndrome where the record showed the employee repeatedly engaged in obstructive and uncooperative behavior in response to Boeing’s proposed accommodations. Continue Reading Employee’s Failure to Participate in Interactive Process in Good Faith is Fatal to ADA Accommodation Claim, Says Washington Federal Court
Over the course of a career many workers experience the displeasure of dealing with a difficult supervisor — the type of individual whose mere presence in the workplace is a source of dread and whose name inspires feelings of fear and loathing whenever it appears on a subordinate’s caller ID or the sender line of an email. But according to the California Court of Appeals, the apprehension this situation engenders does not qualify as a disability and does not give rise to a cause of action under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Employers are generally aware of the obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to engage in an “interactive process” with employees who require accommodations in order to perform their duties, but identifying the point at which this obligation is met is far from an exact science. In two recent decisions, the Second and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal clarified that an employer must only offer a reasonable accommodation that does not unduly burden business operations, and need not continue to provide more generous accommodations or investigate alternative accommodations that an employee has not proposed.
The Supreme Court recently held that job applicants may hold their potential employer liable for intentional discrimination under Title VII if the applicant can show that his or her need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the potential employer’s decision not to hire that applicant, and it is irrelevant whether the employer had actual knowledge of the need for the accommodation. While the Court’s holding was relatively straightforward, its practical import presents additional challenges for employers.