EEOC Lawsuit Highlights Risks of Inflexible Termination Policies
In EEOC v. UPS, a former UPS employee took a 12 month leave of absence after she began having symptoms that were later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. UPS had a policy allowing employees to take up to 12 months off for medical leave. When the employee in question exhausted this leave, the EEOC alleges the employee requested an additional two weeks of leave. The employee claimed she could have returned to her job after those two weeks. Instead of allowing the alleged request for an additional two weeks of leave, UPS instead terminated her employment.
The EEOC's lawsuit against UPS alleges that its 12 month medical leave policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it is too stringent and does not accommodate employees with disabilities. UPS, however, claims its policy is "not automatic or absolute." The EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction enjoining UPS from continuing its allegedly inflexible termination practice, damages for the terminated employee, as well as for a class of all employees affected by the discriminatory policy, for past and future monetary losses, including back pay and job search expenses, financial damages for pain and suffering, and punitive damages.
The ADA requires that a covered employer provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, provided those accommodations do not present an undue burden to the employer. In some cases, an additional period of unpaid leave after the exhaustion of the employer's standard medical leave period, or a leave period required by the Family and Medical Leave Act, may be a reasonable accommodation. In general, these additional leave periods need not be indefinite and may be limited to a finite period of time after which the employee is expected to be able to perform the essential functions of his or her job. EEOC v. UPS, however, shows that employers who fail to consider allowing additional unpaid leave face the risk of expensive litigation and the multitude of damages available for ADA violations.