For years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and courts have made clear that blanket maximum leave and return-to-work policies—in other words, policies that are the same for the entire workforce without regard to circumstances or differentiating factors—are problematic for employers when dealing with accommodation requests and medical leave. In 2017, UPS paid $1.7 million to settle a lawsuit challenging its 12-month maximum leave policy. The next year, a Las Vegas gaming company paid $3.5 million to settle claims relating to its “100% healed” policy that allowed employees to return to work after illness or injury only if they were “100% healed,” also known as “full duty.” The EEOC’s consistent position has been that inflexible leave and return-to-work policies are a barrier to employment of workers with disabilities and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Instead, the EEOC wants employers to take a case-by-case, individualized approach to leave management and disability accommodations.
Yet employers continue to struggle to implement flexible policies, which are much more difficult to administer. On March 24, 2022, a federal court in Massachusetts sided with a group of plaintiffs who sued the Boston Police Department over a policy that required medical and psychological examinations for all officers returning from extended leave, regardless of the nature of their leave or job duties, before they were allowed to return to work. The specific policy at issue in LaCroix v. Boston Police Department was a so-called “blanket policy,” requiring a physical examination for any police officer who had been on leave for three or more months and a psychological examination for any officer who had been on leave for six months. After emphasizing that the ADA requires that medical exams be “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” the court held that the Boston PD failed to present any evidence to establish that being on leave for three months or six months causes increased risk for physical and/or psychological conditions that could negatively impact an officer’s job performance. The court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs on their ADA disability discrimination claim.
This recent decision serves as a reminder for employers who are subject to the ADA to take an individualized approach to leave and return-to-work issues, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
The Phillips Murrah Labor & Employment Law team stands ready to advise employers on all aspects of the ever-changing labor and employment laws.
Janet A. Hendrick is an experienced employment litigator who tackles each of her client’s problems with a tailored, results-oriented approach.
For more information on this alert and its impact on your business, please call 469.485.7334 or email Janet A. Hendrick.
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