Read on to see how your business can avoid being part of this exclusive club.
Two employers; over five million dollars.
Last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced (here) that it had recovered $1.75M from a California employer that it had accused of systemic discrimination against pregnant workers. Here are some more details about the conduct of which this business was accused:
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, [the Company] used its rigid leave policies and practices to deny reasonable accommodations to its disabled and/or pregnant employees, refusing to accommodate them with additional leave and firing them when they were unable to return to work at the end of their leave. In some instances, [the Company] discharged individuals before they had even exhausted their approved leave and failed to rehire them when they tried to return to work.
But, the EEOC wasn’t done yet.
Less than a week later, the EEOC hit big on the east coast and midwest, when it announced a $3.5 million settlement to resolve a nationwide, systemic investigation conducted jointly out of the Chicago and Philadelphia Offices.
The EEOC alleged that the employer denied reasonable accommodations to certain pregnant employees or those with disabilities, made certain employees take unpaid leaves of absence, and/or terminated them because of their disabilities. Unlike the first settlement, this one resolved pre-litigation.
Tips for employers.
While it’s never good business to discriminate and violate the law, the EEOC has made it part of its Strategic Enforcement Plan to focus on issues involving the Americans with Disabilities Act and pregnancy-related limitations. So, if you mess up there, you are right in the cross-hairs. And the problem with having a policy or procedure that violates either the ADA or the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is that that you are probably applying it “across the board” to several employees. That breeds “systemic” discrimination, and that’s another way to get the attention of the EEOC.
When you’re on the hook for over $1 million for systemic discrimination, the odds are that you have a lot of issues. So, it’s difficult for me to offer a cure-all, especially in a blog post that I’d like to limit to a few hundred words. However, I do have a few tips:
- When it comes to accommodations, although the employee does not necessarily get his or her first choice, a rigid approach from the employers can create problems. For example, it’s not okay to force unpaid leave on an employee who can report to work with an accommodation.
- Pregnancy accommodations can be particularly difficult to administer. Not only is the federal law confusing, but then you have to consider your obligations under and state (and sometimes local) law. Quite often, these laws are even more employee-friendly.
- Once you’ve got this stuff mastered, please make sure that your managers and supervisors understand what to do as well. They are your first line of defense and need training on these issues. Otherwise, even the best-intentioned employer can find itself litigation disability and pregnancy discrimination claims.