On September 20, 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that a requested three month medical leave due to a disability was not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.  Although there is some discussion of the particular facts in the case, much to the delight of management-side attorneys like me, the case goes beyond saying that the leave was not reasonable in this particular circumstance.

Instead the Court noted that the ADA is not a medical leave statute.  The Court held that an accommodation need only be granted under the ADA if it will help the employee work.  Since an employee who needs leave cannot work, then they cannot be considered a qualified individual with a disability.

The Court does note that a brief leave of days or perhaps a few weeks, might, in some circumstances be a reasonable accommodation.  But, and here’s the good part, “a medical leave spanning multiple months does not permit the employee to perform the essential functions of his job. To the contrary, the “[i]nability to work for a multi-month period removes a person from the class protected by the ADA.”

The subject of how long must an employer grant leave to a disabled employee is a common one. Often, it is the source of great frustration for employers.  Although there is still no bright-line test as to just how much leave must be granted, this case certainly seems to limit that time to less than two months for employers within the Seventh Circuit.

Employers should still be cautious as many state and local laws that require reasonable accommodations for disabilities may not be interpreted in the same manner.

If you want to read more, the case is Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft Inc. 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 18197.

The devastation in Texas is breathtakingly sad.  Although the storm has passed, recovery efforts continue.  For many, it will take months and years to recover.

Today I received my first call from a client asking about its obligations towards an employee who will be traveling to Texas to help with the recovery efforts.  Many states do have laws that protect first responders from being disciplined or terminated for missing work while responding to an emergency.

New Jersey, for example, is one such state that has a law that provides that an employer cannot “terminate, dismiss or suspend an employee who fails to report for work at his place of employment because he is serving as a volunteer emergency responder during a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States or the Governor of this State.”

Under the New Jersey law, a volunteer emergency responder is defined as “an active member in good standing of a volunteer fire company, a volunteer member of a duly incorporated first aid, rescue or ambulance squad, or a member of any county or municipal volunteer Office of Emergency Management, provided the member’s official duties include responding to a fire or emergency call.”

In the last few days, President Trump has declared a state of emergency in Texas and Louisiana.  As such any New Jersey volunteer emergency responder who is traveling to aid with the Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts may be entitled to leave.

The leave does not have to be paid.  Employees may be able to use available or vacation days while out on leave, but cannot be forced to use such time.

The bad news for employers is that the law does not provide a limit on the amount of work that can be missed by the employee.  Many other jurisdictions besides New Jersey provide similar protections.  Employers with questions about first responder leave are encouraged to contact employment counsel.

For those wanting to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, Consumer Reports  and the New York Times have written some helpful guidance on avoiding scams, as well as listing some charities that are in the best position to help.

A couple of weeks ago we asked whether the federal government would pass a paid family leave law.  Although it is still unclear whether a federal law will pass, it is clear, for now, that there will not  be an expansion of paid family leave in New Jersey.

Governor Christie vetoed legislation that would have expanded paid family leave.  In his veto remarks, Governor Christie complained about the financial impact of the law.

The veto is conditional, meaning if the legislature approved a bill with Christie’s suggested changes, the law would pass.  However, it is clear that the legislature would not make Christies’ suggested changes as they have complained that his changes would gut the law.

Included in President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal is a request for funding a paid leave program.  The program would require $19 billion from the budget and would provide that employees were entitled to 6 weeks of paid leave from work.

So far, Republicans have not warmed to the idea.

Yesterday, at least 100 Democrats wrote a letter to President Trump also expressing concerns over the proposal.  However, the Democrats are concerned that the proposal does not go far enough. Democrats are pushing for consideration of other Democrat-sponsored bills that would provide for 12 weeks’ paid leave, matching the FMLA leave entitlement.

At this stage, it really is too early to tell whether some form of paid family leave will wind up in the final budget or if it will become a casualty of the horse-trading that goes on when trying to reach a consensus on the budget.

We will be keeping an eye on this one.

In November, voters in Arizona approved a ballot initiative that would require employers to provide paid sick leave.  The law goes into effect tomorrow.

Under the law, Arizona employers with less than 15 employees will have to provide up to 24 hours of paid sick leave.  Employers with 15 or more employees will have to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave.

In anticipation of the law, the Arizona Industrial Commission has issued FAQs, which can be found here.  The FAQs do make one significant change from the text of the law.  The FAQs do make clear that when counting employees for purposes of determining how much leave is to be offered, employers need only count employees working in Arizona.  Don’t get too excited.  This could change as the Commission itself notes that there might be further legislative guidance on this issue.

Employers not only need to make sure that they are offering leave, they will need to provide notices to the employees and post posters in both Spanish and English.

Arizona’s law, like many others, contains a no retaliation provision.  However, this provision should give employers pause.  Under the law, if any adverse action is taken against an employee within 90 days of them using sick leave, there is a presumption that adverse action was retaliatory.  Employers will then bear the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the action was for a legitimate purpose.

Employers should tread carefully before disciplining any employee who has recently used sick leave.

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Justin Schwam, an associate in the Labor and Employment Department in Roseland:

60987399 - four young friends drunk and hungover after house party sitting on the couch.

With the trend of local paid sick leave ordinances continuing its progressive sweep in cities across the country, a consistent concern for companies located in the vicinity is whether their operations fall within the local law’s reach.  Does it only apply if the company is physically located in the city?  Or does any employee activity within the city trigger the often onerous recordkeeping obligations?

A few weeks ago, a Minneapolis judge limited the reach of the City’s law slated to go into effect later this year.   Judge Dickstein issued a temporary injunction against the enforcement of its Ordinance against businesses not physically located in the City.  Although the City argued that its exclusive enforcement authority meant that it would not apply the Ordinance against businesses outside the City, the court recognized that such assurances, “however sincere,” did not alter the Ordinance’s plain language.

The court’s analysis of this issue is also notable for its dissection of the City’s argument that its action was a permissible exercise of its police powers to protect the health and welfare of residents.  The court found that the City’s attempt to regulate extraterritorial businesses whose employees “are unlikely (or may never) enter the city while sick” was not a narrowly tailored means of addressing “identifiable harms within the city limits,” such as a rule governing the inspection of extra-territorial cows whose milk was sold within the city.  Because a prime justification for these local ordinances is typically the need to protect residents from the spread of contagion, the court’s refusal to accept policymakers’ assumptions that ill workers would use the sick leave benefit to “protect against potential harm” is significant.

Although the injunction ultimately may be lifted, or the ordinance amended – it’s not scheduled to take effect until July 1, 2017 – employers not located in Minneapolis are breathing a sigh of relief.   For now, employees who occasionally travel to Minneapolis will not be entitled to accrue sick leave under the law.

As local action on this issue will no doubt continue to pick-up steam, since more state governments are looking at measures to prevent municipal action than are moving to enact state-wide measures, it will be interesting to see how cases like this one influence future legal challenges and how future paid sick leave laws are drafted.  We will keep an eye out and report back on any developments.

 

34383097 - veterans day

As the nation prepares to honor the service of men and women in armed forces, Massachusetts employers should be aware of some new obligations.

In July 2016, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed the HOME Act into law.  The HOME Act is an omnibus bill that, in part, amends M.G.L. 149, Section 52A1/2 . Previously, employers were required to provide any veteran with unpaid leave who desires to participate in Veterans’ Day or Memorial Day exercises, parades or services.

The HOME Act amends that law to provide that employers with 50 or more employees must provide paid leave. There are some limits to the law.  Veterans are permitted to participate in services in their community of residence.  This means employers would not have to grant multiple leave days for veterans to travel outside of their community of residence.  Employers also may deny leave where the employee’s services are essential to public health and safety and the employee is an essential employee to the employer.

The HOME Act also amends the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act to provide that “veteran status” is a protected class.  As Veterans Day approaches, employers should remind supervisors and HR personnel that leave requests may need to be granted.

 

On July 29, 2016, Governor Bruce Ratnor signed the Child Bereavement Act into law.  The Act requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 10 working days of unpaid leave to employees to:

  1. attend the funeral or alternative to a funeral of a child;
  2. make arrangements necessitated by the death of the child; or
  3. grieve the death of the child.

37323216 - single or divorced woman alone missing a boyfriend while swinging on the beach at sunset

Bereavement leave must be completed within 60 days after the date on which the employee receives notice of the death of the child.   Further, employees requiring leave must provide employers with at least 48 hours’ advance notice of the employee’s intention to take bereavement leave, unless providing such notice is not reasonable and practicable.

The law defines employer as it is defined under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides that employers are covered employers if they have 50 employees located anywhere in the U.S.  However, the law also defines eligible employees as is defined in the FMLA.  Thus, in order to be eligible for leave employees must have worked at least 12 months for the employer, worked at least 1250 hours in the last 12 months, and work in a location with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

The law does not define “child” as the FMLA does so employees will be able to take this leave regardless of the age of their children.

Employers may require reasonable documentation to demonstrate the need for leave.  Such documentation can include a death certificate, a published obituary, or written verification of death, burial, or memorial services from a mortuary, funeral home, burial society, crematorium, religious institution, or government agency.

If an employee tragically suffers the death of more than one child in a 12-month period, an employee is entitled to up to a total of 6 weeks of bereavement leave during the 12-month period. Although the Act provides for unpaid leave, if an employee has paid leave (including family, medical, sick, annual, personal, or similar leave) from employment, the employee may elect to use paid leave for bereavement leave.

Finally, the law provides that it is not meant to increase the total amount of unpaid leave the employee can take under the FMLA.  This seems to mean that if an employee has exhausted his or her 12 week FMLA entitlement, that he or she will not be permitted to take bereavement leave.

The law was effective immediately so, if employers have not already updated their leave policies, we encourage you to do so.

Employee leave issues can be exceedingly complicated given the interplay between local, state and federal laws.  If you have questions, hopefully, I can help.  I will be giving a webinar through Lorman on June 23rd at 1 pm EST entitled “Legal and Practical Solutions for Accommodating Employees with Serious Illnesses.”

17568955_sI am pleased to be able to offer you a 50% discount off the normal prices.  To register, click the above link and put in the following discount codes.

Discount code: B5513783
Priority code: 15999

Hopefully, you can join me on Thursday.

 

Employee Handbook
Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

In newly published guidance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) discusses employer leave policies and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). This guidance is significant for a number of reasons.  First, ADA-related developments feature prominently in the EEOC’s most recent enforcement plan. Second, alleged ADA violations continue to rank high on the list of grounds for which the EEOC both receives complaints and ultimately initiates lawsuits. Third, the interaction of ADA and employer leave policies adds another wrinkle to the complex interaction of laws at the federal, state, and local level that require paid or unpaid leave in some fashion.

The Relevant ADA Requirements

Before discussing the EEOC’s guidance, a brief refresher on the ADA “basics” may prove helpful. The ADA prohibits disability-based discrimination in employment and requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. ADA regulations define “reasonable accommodation” as “any change in an employee’s work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment accommodation.”

Under this definition, a broad variety of modifications to the work environment could potentially be reasonable accommodations, including leave. Potential accommodations, however, are not reasonable if: 1) they require eliminating an essential function of the job, or 2) they would cause undue hardship to the employer. A determination of undue hardship is a case-by-case analysis of the effect of the proposed accommodation on the employer’s operations or finances.

An employee who requests an accommodation triggers the “interactive process,” which, in broad terms, can be thought of as a dialogue between employer and employee seeking to identify the precise limitations of the disability and the potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limits. The employee does not need to use any specific phrasing to request an accommodation.

So how does the ADA affect employer leave policies?

Equal Access to Leave                                                                                            

Employers may not discriminate in employment on the basis of an individual’s disability. In the leave context, this means when an employee with a disability requests leave within the employer’s existing policies, the employer should treat that employee the same as employees without disabilities who request leave. The EEOC highlights this requirement with an example:

Example 2: An employer permits employees to use paid annual leave for any purpose and does not require that they explain how they intend to use it. An employee with a disability requests one day of annual leave and mentions to her supervisor that she is using it to have repairs made to her wheelchair. Even though he has never denied other employees annual leave based on their reason for using it, the supervisor responds, “That’s what sick leave is for,” and requires her to designate the time off as sick leave. This violates the ADA, since the employer has denied the employee’s use of annual leave due to her disability.

Leave as a Reasonable Accommodation

The EEOC’s guidance highlights the role leave can play as a reasonable accommodation. The EEOC’s guidance states that employers are required to consider unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation to an employee who has a disability, even if:

the employer does not offer leave as an employee benefit;

the employee is not eligible for leave under the employer’s policy; or

the employee has exhausted the leave the employer provides as a benefit (including leave exhausted under a workers’ compensation program, or the FMLA or similar state or local laws).

Employers need not provide unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation if doing so would create an undue hardship. Moreover, the EEOC cautions employers should not penalize employees who use leave as a reasonable accommodation, as doing so may be considered retaliation that violates the ADA.

Potential Red Flags

The EEOC guidance highlights leave-related policies where employers may run into ADA trouble.

Maximum Leave Policies are common to many employers in various forms. Sometimes these policies are referred to as “no fault” leave policies.  These policies often place caps on the amount of leave employees can use. Limits on Unplanned Absences are another policy tool some employers implement, and these policies typically spell out a set number of unplanned days off an employee is permitted to take before disciplinary action may occur. As the EEOC correctly notes, employees with disabilities aren’t categorically exempt from these policies. Nevertheless, employers may need to adjust these policies as a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability, unless the modification would constitute an undue hardship.

100% Healed Policies. Sometimes, employers may require an employee with a disability to be 100% healed (meaning, they have no medical restrictions) before returning to work, such as, for example, after a lengthy medical leave related to surgery. If such an employee is able to perform the essential functions of his or her job with our without reasonable accommodation, requiring that employee to be 100% healed before returning to work may violate the ADA. While there are exceptions – including undue hardship and the direct threat defense – employers maintaining 100% healed policies should tread carefully to ensure ADA compliance.

Bottom Line

In light of the EEOC’s new guidance on this topic, what should employers do?

  • Self-Audit. Review internal policies, procedures, and employee job descriptions for ADA compliance.
  • Train. Ensure that managers, supervisors, and HR professionals, as appropriate, are regularly trained on how to respond to accommodation requests, including leave as a possible accommodation.
  • Document, document, document.  Keep detailed records of discussions with employees that involve the interactive process and any decisions on requests for accommodation (and remember – there are no “magic words” an employee must use when requesting an acommodation).
  • Consult Counsel. Work with knowledgeable counsel early on to ensure ADA compliance and reduce legal exposure.