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Employers Have Obligations Under The ADA To Discuss Reasonable Accommodations For A Disability

Apr 7, 2014

Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) April 7, 2014 – Employers are legally obligated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to talk to a disabled worker about reasonable accommodations for them, even if they are on final suspension before being fired.

“In Spurling v. C&M Fine Pack, Inc. (No. 13-1708), the court outlined what an employer must do in discussing with them reasonable accommodations for their disability, even if they are about to be let go,” explains well respected Chicago employment lawyer, Timothy Coffey.

The facts of this case indicated that plaintiff Spurling had worked for this company since 2004. By 2009 she began struggling to stay awake at work. She received several write-ups and disciplinary warnings. In 2010, she was suspended for sleeping in the bathroom and warned once more. When the plaintiff returned to work, she stated her sleep problem was likely the result of her medications. A doctor’s letter stated she should stop taking medication treating her for passing out and that to please excuse her symptoms while on-the-job.

Despite the doctor’s letter, the plaintiff continued to fall asleep, received a final warning and put on suspension again. She was told the company would decide if she would be let go within four days. Her warning letter stated her performance was at issue and that she would be told later what would happen next, which may include being fired.

When the plaintiff received the notice, she told the HR Manager that sleeping at work might relate to her medications. She was handed documents outlining her ADA rights and forms for her doctor to fill out. That day, the HR manager suggested she be fired. The woman’s physician subsequently diagnosed her with a disability covered under the ADA, advised she have scheduled rest periods and stated further medical tests were pending. The paperwork was turned in to the HR manager and the plaintiff was told it would be reviewed. Seven days later, she was fired. One month later, she was told she had narcolepsy, a disease managed by medication(s).

“The worker filed a lawsuit alleging violation of the FMLA and the ADA. The District Court granted summary judgement to the company. On appeal, the court reversed on the ADA count stating the company’s email to her did not constitute sufficient notice of termination of employment,” says Coffey. The court outlined that there must be an “unequivocal notice of termination” test, and to meet that, there must be “a final, ultimate, non-tentative decision to terminate.” The email the plaintiff received relating to her what her discipline would be merely constituted notice the company would be investigating further to reach a decision on firing.

The company, at that time, had medical information that suggested her condition may affect her work and firing her after they had that documentation and before they talked about reasonable accommodations may have violated the ADA.

“There are two takeaways: a termination notice must be crystal clear and final and employers must talk to worker’s about reasonable accommodations in the workplace, no matter what the circumstances happen to be,” indicates Coffey.

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