Many qualified people with disabilities believe getting an accommodation at work from their employer is as simple as making a request, and that they are entitled to whatever accommodation they believe will allow them to most easily perform their job. However, there are steps both employers and employees must take regarding a request for accommodation. Moreover, an employer is not obligated to provide an employee the accommodation he/she requests or prefers. Rather, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) only requires employers to provide accommodations that are reasonable.
Reasonable Accommodations Could Include:
Part-time or modified work schedules
Reassignment to a vacant position
Acquisition or modification of equipment or devices
Appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations
Training materials or policies
The provision of qualified readers or interpreters
Other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities
One common example of a reasonable accommodation might be for a grocery store to allow one of its cashiers to use a stool to sit if he/she struggles with standing for extended periods of time. In more extreme situations where a person can no longer perform the essential functions of his/her current position due to disability, an employer may reasonably accommodate that person by moving him/her to another available position within the company. Of course, the person must be able to perform the essential functions of that available position, either with or without reasonable accommodation.
If In Need of Accommodation in Your Workplace
You must first inform your employer of your disability and need for accommodation
You and your employer must then begin an interactive process involving your healthcare provider(s) in order to gather information and evidence regarding the nature of your disability, severity, duration, activities limited by the disability and the extent to which the disability limits your ability to perform your essential job functions
Once your employer has that information, they will be able to review the same and make their own determination as to whether your disability really does prevent you from being able to perform the essential functions of your job and whether any reasonable accommodation can be made to keep you as an employee of the company, even if in a different job and/or capacity.
It is important to bear in mind that an accommodation is not reasonable if it would create undue hardship to the employer. In determining whether the requested accommodation would create undue hardship, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) looks at the cost of the accommodation in relation to the company’s financial stability, whether modifications would be unduly extensive or disruptive, and/or whether the modification would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the job or the company. If there is no reasonable accommodation that would enable an employee to perform the essential functions of his/her position or another available position within the company, that employee is not a “qualified individual with a disability” and may be terminated. In such a case, that termination would not constitute wrongful discrimination.
If you have questions about requesting an accommodation, or if your employer has denied a request, it is important to know your rights under the ADA. Please call for a free consultation if you have any questions about accommodations in the workplace.
Despite bitter partisan divide in Washington, both the House and Senate recently passed H.R. 4445 which will effectively end the forced arbitration of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases. (Read here.)
What does this mean? Many employees may not even be aware that they signed an arbitration agreement when they accepted the offer from their employer. Often these clauses are buried in employment agreements, and employees have no knowledge or understanding of what they even mean. However, employers favor forced arbitration because it keeps them out of court. The effect of forced arbitration clauses is that they close the courthouse doors for many victims of sexual assault or harassment.
When a new client comes to me with a claim of sexual assault or harassment, one of the first things we want to know is whether they signed an arbitration agreement. If a victim is bound by an arbitration agreement, then we can’t file a public lawsuit. Arbitration agreements empower employers to make low ball offers to settle and insist on confidentiality. These agreements effectively take away a victim’s right to go public with the allegations and exposing the perpetrators.
Many defense lawyers are surmising that this will result in a huge increase in the number of lawsuits being filed by victims, and larger settlements because corporations are no longer going to be able to force victims into a confidential arbitration proceeding. The guaranty of confidentiality means less exposure and publicity for perpetrators and the corporations for which they work.
While it remains to be seen whether this will cause an increase in lawsuits, this can certainly be viewed as a win for victims of sexual assault and harassment. The law basically amends the Federal Arbitration Act to make it easier for victims to file suit in State or Federal Court despite having previously agreed to arbitrate those claims. Victims will now have the right to choose to file their claims in court, rather than being forced by their employers to arbitration, thus allowing their claims will be heard by a judge, not an arbitrator.
The effects of the new law go beyond just giving victims their “day in court.” This will now force employers to effectively address sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Gone are the days of paying off victims and buying their silence with a confidentiality agreement. By shining the light of a public proceeding on a perpetrator, it may prevent them from finding any future victims.
If an employer has discriminated against you because of your special needs, he or she is may be violating federal law as well as state and local laws.
In 1990, Congress passed a piece of civil rights legislation called the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Title 1 of this legislation specifically prohibits workplace discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Such prohibitions apply to any business that has 15 or more employees on its payroll. The ADA also offers protection to individuals such as spouses or parents who may be subject to bias on the basis of a close relationship to a person with a disability.
Four other federal laws also specify protections for psychologically or physically challenged individuals:
The Rehabilitation Act
Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits disability-related bias by federal employers and mandates affirmative action programs that will increase the number of employees with disabilities in federal workplaces.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)
Section 188 of the WIOA prohibits disability-related bias on the part of any employers who receive financial or programmatic assistance under the terms of the WIOA.
The Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA)
The CSRA contains language that stipulates against disability-related bias that targets both Civil Service employees and prospective employees.
Additionally, all 50 states have laws in place that prohibit workplace bias against individuals with disabilities though in some states, these laws only pertain to workplace discrimination on the part of public employers.
What Is a Disability?
The ADA doesn’t contain language that categorizes all the physical and psychological conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA imposes a standard: If a condition has a negative effect on an individual’s ability to carry out the routine activities of daily life, then it constitutes a disability.
The ADA’s definition includes people who’ve been impaired in the past even though they may not be impaired when they’re employed or when they apply for employment. The ADA’s definition also includes people who are able to carry out major life activities but who are affected by a condition that is typically classified as a disability. Disabilities also include injuries that may prevent employees from working in their customary capacity for a limited amount of time.
The ADA requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to either job duties or to the layout of a workplace that will enable an employee with special needs to do his or her job adequately. What might these accommodations reasonably include? Here are a few possibilities:
• Physical modifications such as raising or lowering the height of desks for people in wheelchairs or installing screen magnifiers on computers that are used by individuals with visual impairments.
• Moving a workstation closer to a restroom for a worker whose disability includes bladder or bowel control issues.
• Allowing a more flexible work schedule and use of leave time so that a worker can pursue medical treatments. This accommodation may also require granting additional amounts of unpaid leave time.
Under the ADA, however, employers are not required to make particular accommodations for physically disabled workers if those accommodations would impose “undue hardship.” The burden of proof will be on employers to prove that an accommodation an employee has asked for is too costly or too disruptive to be implemented. Both courts and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) , which is the federal agency charged with enforcing ADA compliance, will look at a variety of factors here, including potential tax credits and the disabled employee’s own willingness to supply the accommodation or to pay for its costs.
Harassment is considered to be a type of bias whether or not an individual is affected by a disability. The ADA has language that prohibits harassment as does the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
In its broadest sense, harassment is any unwelcome conduct that’s instigated by an individual’s race, color, sex, age, religion, place of national origin or disability. However, not every offensive remark constitutes unlawful harassment. In order to meet that standard, the offensive conduct must be a condition of continuing employment, or it must also create a workplace that a “reasonable person” would consider hostile or intimidating.
The harassing individual can be anyone who is connected with a workplace, including a company’s owner, its managers, its employees, its independent contractors or even individuals who are not employees as might be the case with a vendor who delivers inventory on a regular basis. A harassment victim doesn’t have to be the individual who’s actually subject to unpleasant behavior, either; he or she can be someone who overhears the harassment and is deeply affected by it.
Employers are liable for harassment on the part of employees over whom employers have control. They’re also liable for harassing behaviors on the part of supervisors particularly if that harassment has negative implications for employment unless employers can prove either that they tried to correct the harassing behaviors or that the employee reporting the harassment did not take advantage of corrective opportunities offered by the employer.
Protect Your Rights
If you’re experiencing an unfair workplace situation that’s related to your disability, you have legal rights, and an experienced attorney can help you protect those rights. You are looking at tight statutes of limitations, so it’s important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible. In most instances, you will need to file a charge with the EEOC within 180 calendar days of the time you were refused accommodation or were subjected to harassment. (If you’re a federal employee, that statute of limitation is only 45 days.)
A discrimination attorney can evaluate your situation and help you decide whether or not your case is worth pursuing. These claims can be difficult to prove without concrete evidence of an employer’s bias, so it’s important to work with a legal professional who can help you compile the necessary evidence. An attorney can help you negotiate with your employer to get the accommodations that are your right. In worst-case situations, if your employer isn’t willing to make the accommodations that would help you keep your job, a lawyer may be able to help you receive compensation for your employer’s unlawful actions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is “one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream American life – to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.” (www.ada.gov)
Marlo Spaeth is one of these people. Marlo, a seasoned Walmart employee of 16 years, has Down Syndrome. Marlo’s schedule at the retail giant followed the same pattern for years—until Walmart decided to alter it. The change caused hardships for Marlo, who requested that Walmart change her schedule back to its original pattern. Marlo’s mother and sister also spoke to Walmart on her behalf, encouraging the company to grant Marlo’s request alleviating the hardships caused by the schedule change. Walmart refused. Marlo had difficulty adjusting to the new schedule, which lead to increased absenteeism and, eventually, her termination. (EEOC v.Wal-Mart Stores East, E.D. Wis.,No. 1:17-cv-00070 (E.D. Wis. 2021))
The ADA requires that employers provide “reasonable accommodations” for a worker’s disability. Marlo Spaeth was asking that her schedule be altered back to her original shift—a change of 60-90 minutes at the beginning and end of her shift. When Marlo was working her original schedule, she received “consistently positive reviews and feedback from her managers.” This led the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to believe Walmart “failed to provide reasonable accommodations” to Marlo, eventually firing her “due to her disability.” (Ryskamp, Dani Alexis, Jury Decides Walmart Must Pay Over $125 Million in Disability Discrimination Case, www.expertinstitute.com, July 29, 2021)
The EEOC sued Walmart on Marlo’s behalf, winning a judgment in excess of $125 million dollars. The judge has altered that amount according to federal statutory maximums, and Marlo Spaeth waits to hear the final amount of her settlement—which should include amounts to cover Marlo’s lost wages, litigation costs, and interest.
Have you or someone you know lost a job or not been considered for a position due to a disability? Have you recently been diagnosed with a disability and believe you may be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSD/SSDI) or Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI)? Do you have a child with a disability or special needs? The lawyers at Goodin Abernathy can help.
Applying for disability can be frustrating. The process takes a long time and oftentimes first time applicants are denied. Do you need someone to help walk you through the appeals process? Represent you in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge? You don’t have to attempt this difficult process alone. Call Goodin Abernathy today for a Free Consultation.
Jim Browne: Hey, welcome to Goodin Abernathy. I’m attorney Jim Browne. We have a new member to our group, Garrett Lewis. He is a young attorney, and I thought we would spend a little time with him so you get to know who he is and what he can do for you. Come on in, Garrett.
Garrett Lewis: Alright, glad to be here Jim.
Jim Browne: Where are you from, Garrett?
Garrett Lewis: So, I’m actually from the South Bend area. I practiced there for a couple years before moving down here.
Jim Browne: What time of law did you focus on?
Garrett Lewis: We did Real Estate; we did Torts, which is contracts, defamation, things like that; and intellectual property, which is sort of copyrights, trademarks and patents.
Jim Browne: Do you have a typical client that you helped with the intellectual property?
Garrett Lewis: Yea, we dealt with small businesses. We had a few global businesses that we worked with and a lot of individual clients with patents and trademarks.
Jim Browne: What about people with inventions?
Garrett Lewis: All, all the time.
Jim Browne: Awesome.
Garrett Lewis: Yea, some that we knew weren’t going to anywhere right out of the gate and some that were very successful.
Jim Browne: Well, what’s that? I mean is that employment law type of work?/employment-lawyer/discrimination-in-the-workplace/
Garrett Lewis: Yea predominantly. Yep.
Jim Browne: And you are helping clients – individuals with their questions about discrimination? Tell us about that for a second.
Garrett Lewis: Yeah, so it sort of depends – when it comes to the ADA – businesses, for example, have legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations and….
Jim Browne: so, there are seven core areas – age, race, religion, sexual discrimination, physical disabilities – those are things that you’re focusing on?
Garrett Lewis: Correct
Jim Browne: Great. You’ve already had a jury trial in that area… and what court was it in?
Garrett Lewis: So that was actually in the southern district in the…
Jim Browne: A federal court?
Garrett Lewis: A federal court, yea.
Jim Browne: And that trial, what was it about?
Garrett Lewis: So, that case was about a woman who was working at a grocery store for about 12 years and because of her chronic conditions and disabilities, she needed to be able to use a chair, as necessary.
Jim Browne: And the new employer said “No, you can’t use the chair.”
Garrett Lewis: That’s exactly right.
Jim Browne: So, it’s something probably a pretty easy fix.
Garrett Lewis: It was a very easy fix.
Jim Browne: You had a nice result with that jury trial?
Garrett Lewis: We did.
Jim Browne: You were able to learn some things.
Garrett Lewis: Yes.
Jim Browne: Give me one thing that stood out to you about that process.
Garrett Lewis: Well, first thing is you know maybe as a last resort everybody paid attention on the jury, which was nice – and whereas outside of the courtroom, Covid has sort of made remote working a little bit more convenient, inside the courtroom it’s made it much more of a challenge.
Jim Browne: I understand, so you’re preparing and you’re going to teach us old guys what to do about those technological challenges right?
Garrett Lewis: Yep.
Jim Browne: Well, I’m glad you’re on board Garrett. If you have questions about any of those areas of law please call us at Goodin Abernathy. A lot of your questions can be answered by phone, and we really care about the quality and responsiveness of our work, so please call us at 317-843-2606. You’ll get in touch with whichever attorney probably best suits the area of law you’re looking for, and we appreciate you tuning in to Goodin Abernathy.
It is December 17, 2020, and this week was the beginning of vaccine distribution in the United States.
Many people are asking, “Can the government or my employer require me to get the Covid-19 Vaccine?”
The simple answer is YES, but the likelihood of that happening is going to depend on a lot of factors, and it is not likely that the FEDERAL government would issue such a mandate.
Historically, states have had the right to mandate vaccines in order to ensure safety of the public. However, experts believe that it is very unlikely it will happen.
What is more likely is that employers and states will condition return or access to workplaces, public schools and universities upon getting the vaccine. Currently, all 50 states and Washington DC have laws requiring certain vaccines for students, but there are exceptions for personal, moral or other beliefs.
The industries most likely to mandate vaccines are going to be those most at risk for contracting the disease, such as those who work in HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION, PUBLIC SAFETY. Another important factor will be: AVAILABILITY OF VACCINE.
Currently, the available Coronavirus vaccines have been given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA. By the time the vaccines receive full FDA approval, which could take months. A lot will depend on how widespread the current vaccine has been distributed.
It is not clear if employers could legally mandate a vaccine that is only approved for Emergency Use. However, it would be very unusual to mandate a vaccine that has not been fully licensed and approved by the FDA. Right now, the consensus seems to be to encourage as many people as possible to voluntarily receive the vaccine. Assuming large numbers of people get vaccinated, there is a much less likely chance that there will be mandates by states or employers.
On the other hand, once the vaccine is approved by the FDA, if the number of people vaccinated is still too low to be effective, AND there is an available supply of the vaccine, we should probably expect to see some mandates.
As with any vaccine, there will be exceptions to those mandates; for example: pregnant women, people with disabilities, or those who hold deeply-rooted religious convictions.
So, what does that mean for you? To be vaccinated is a personal decision for each of us. I can tell you that I will be volunteering to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, and I look forward to putting an end to this deadly disease.
If you have questions about the vaccine as it relates to your employment, please feel free to contact me, Chip Clark, for a free consultation.