Every now and then a case comes along that is just too obvious, much like the case of EEOC v. OK Concrete, for which a consent decree was announced yesterday by the EEOC. Just in case there are employers out there who haven’t caught on to this nuance of the Disabilities Act (ADA) yet, we’ll break it down in clear and unambiguous terms: terminating an employee after he informs his employer that he may need a few days off to receive treatment for a recent cancer diagnosis is not going to go over well for the EEOC. It is critical for employers to engage in the interactive process.
When Joey Snyder, a concrete mixer driver for OK Concrete, informed his supervisor that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and may need some upcoming time off, his employer responded by terminating him within hours. Snyder’s condition did not prevent him from performing any of the duties of his job. Under the ADA, an employer has a duty to begin the interactive process when an employee with a disability requests an accommodation (workplace, leave of absence, etc.). While the EEOC has stressed that the request for an accommodation or leave as an accommodation does not need to be formal, the employer is still responsible for engaging in the interactive process with that employee. Suzanne Anderson, Supervisory Trial Attorney for EEOC’s Dallas District Office, stated “OK Concrete Company discriminated against Mr. Snyder by making assumptions about his disability and his ability to perform all of the functions of the job.” In this case the employer never provided Snyder with the opportunity to engage in the interactive process, rather he was terminated immediately.
As part of the consent decree, OK Concrete will pay $45,000 in monetary relief to Mr. Snyder, provide training on the ADA to its managers and employees, implement a policy against disability discrimination, and post notices against discrimination in all of its facilities.
What Can Employers Learn?
It is critical for employers to engage in the interactive process when an employee requests an accommodation for a disability, no matter how informal the request may be. This process will allow the employer to evaluate the employee’s abilities and job-duties, and make a holistic assessment as to whether or not the employer is able to provide the accommodation as requested. Employers may also consider an undue hardship analysis, where appropriate. This newly issued document assists employers in making this determination.
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