Interactive Process And Reasonable Accommodations

Written exclusively for ChubbWorks

S&C Electric Company in Chicago will pay $315,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the allegations contained in the lawsuit, a principal designer, who worked for the employer for more than 52 years, took a medical leave of absence after he was diagnosed with cancer and sustained a broken hip.

After his recovery, the employee "provided numerous doctors' notes indicating that he was fit to return to his former position, which was mostly sedentary," according to the EEOC. However, the employer allegedly decided to terminate him rather than to allowing the man to return to his previous position after a contracted doctor performed a "perfunctory medical examination."

The 18-month consent decree settling the lawsuit requires the employer to pay $315,000 to the estate of the former (now deceased) employee. The employer must also keep a record of every Chicago employee who files a complaint for being terminated after trying to return to work following a medical leave of absence and provide it to the EEOC.

The employer also agreed to provide two trainings conducted by third-party trainers on ADA obligations to managers as well as human resources and medical evaluations employees.

Under the consent decree, S&C is prohibited from terminating an employee who is qualified to return to work following a medical leave of absence and can perform the job with or without reasonable accommodation. The employer is also prohibited from engaging in retaliation under the ADA. "S&C Electric Company to Pay $315,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit" (Apr. 21, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

If a returning employee can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation, taking a negative action against them because of a current disability or a history of a disability is illegal discrimination.

Always work with human resources and/or your legal counsel when processing an employee returning to work from a health-related absence. Refer requests for reasonable accommodations to those authorized in your organization to engage in an interactive process to determine appropriate reasonable accommodations.

Here are some additional steps employers can take to help prevent allegations of disability discrimination:

  • Review existing discrimination policies and make sure they adhere to ADA guidelines.
  • Assume that anything but minor or temporary injuries or ailments is arguably a disability under the ADA.
  • Create accurate job descriptions that consider and set out the exact criteria and abilities necessary to perform the job, including the mental, physical, and environmental requirements to perform a position.
  • Review application forms to make sure they comply with ADA regulations.
  • Train managers on the ADA, what is considered a disability, and preventing disability discrimination.
  • Avoid making assumptions about an applicant's or employee's physical or mental impairments or whether they have any impairments.
  • Convey employee communications and training information using both verbal and written communication for employees with intellectual disabilities.
  • Monitor working relationships that involve employees with disabilities and step in immediately if harassment is witnessed or reported.
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