Leave Policies Must Be Flexible Enough to Accommodate Employees with Disabilities

Simply having leave policies in place is not enough to satisfy the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) if those policies are not flexible enough to “reasonably accommodate” employees with disabilities, contends the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC filed suit against Princeton HealthCare System, a Mercer County, NJ company last month for failure to “reasonably accommodate” its employees with disabilities in regards to its leave policies, which is a violation of the ADA. (1)

The EEOC recognized that Princeton HealthCare does have leave policies for its employees as required under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) such as a 12-week leave. However, according to the suit, Princeton HealthCare does not approve extensions beyond the 12-week leave provided for under FMLA for its employees with disabilities. Per this lawsuit, Princeton HealthCare also has terminated employees with disabilities who did not qualify for leave under FMLA when they could not get back to work within the company’s seven-day deadline. (1)

ADA protects disabled workers on the federal level and requires companies to provide “reasonable accommodations” for their workers with disabilities unless those accommodations would pose undue hardships for the company. (2)

New Jersey State Law also makes it unlawful for a person to be harassed or discriminated against because of a disability. The New Jersey Anti-Discrimination Law protects people with mental and physical disabilities. Earlier this year, that Law was amended to include people with neurological disorders such as autism and other related disorders. (3) The Law mandates that people with disabilities have the right to seek jobs based on merit and that they are considered “qualified” as long as they can perform all the essential requirements for the job. It also provides that people with disabilities be eligible for the same opportunities and benefits as all other employees. Under both state and federal law, employers are required to make accommodations for employees with disabilities that would help them perform their jobs. Such accommodations could include, but are not limited to, modified schedules. (2)

This EEOC suit against Princeton HealthCare emphasizes that policies that are not flexible enough to accommodate all qualified employees, including those with disabilities are illegal under both federal and New Jersey State law.

(1) http://ohsonline.com/articles/2010/08/13/princeton-healthcare-sued.aspx?sc_lang=en

(2) http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/factsheets/fact_dis.pdf

(3) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/01/nj_targets_autism_discriminati.html