Discrimination Laws

Can I Be Fired While On Disability Leave?

Can I be fired while I am on disability leave – what’s the deal?

Short answer – yes, but....

Can I be fired while I am on disability leave –but I’m on short term/long term disability leave?

Short and Long Term disabilities are not job protected.  But, there are cases where you may qualify for leave under the FMLA and/or the ADA.  The FMLA provides you with job protection, and the ADA protects you from discrimination on the basis of your disability.  We detail your protections under the FMLA and ADA below.

Can I be fired while I am on disability leave –isn’t it discrimination?

Not necessarily, but it might be.  There are plenty of legal reasons for an employer to fire you.  One reason may be that you are on leave indefinitely and that cannot be accommodated by the employer.  Another reason may be economic/business necessity.  Just because you were terminated and disabled/on leave is not enough – you need to prove that you were terminated because you were disabled/on leave.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability (or perceived disability).  The ADA also requires the employer engage in an “interactive process” to determine whether your disability can be “reasonably accommodated.”  Sometimes, a leave of absence may be a reasonable accommodation – at a minimum, your employer is required to investigate/consider (i.e. engage in the interactive process) whether this is possible.

Ultimately, it comes down to why the employer made the decision to terminate.  If the decision is made because of your disability, it very well may be illegal.

Can I be fired while I am on disability leave –what about the FMLA?

The Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) is a federal law that applies to employers that have 50 or more employees. Under the FMLA certain employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain reasons, like a serious health condition.  Although FMLA is “job-protected” (meaning you should be returned to your prior or equivalent position), you can still be terminated while on FMLA if the reason is not related to the leave and is not otherwise not discriminatory.   If your employer can show that the decision to terminate is unrelated to the FMLA leave, it is legal.

I was fired while I was on disability leave - What should I do?

Call us!  Or e-mail.  We can help. 

When is it OK to Discriminate? The Bona Fide Occupational Qualification Defense

The bona fide occupational qualification (“BFOQ”) is defense that an employer can use to justify intentional discrimination in some circumstances.

For example, gender discrimination is illegal. But what about a men’s clothing designer who refuses to hire female models? Is the designer required to hire female models? Of course not. Being male is a bone fide occupational qualification for the position.

A BFOQ is a legitimate job criterion upon which employers can legally discriminate in hiring. However, to use this defense, the employer would have to show that nearly all members of the excluded class cannot perform the functions of the job. BFOQs allow discrimination based on age, national origin, and gender (sex) but not race.

Bona Fide Occupational Qualification, a Case Study – The Borgata Babes:

Not long ago, the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, NJ came under fire for its weight limit for cocktail servers, known as “Borgata Babes.” In defending the weight limit, the Casino alleged that it was part of the appearance that being a cocktail server at Borgata entailed. The question, with respect to BFOQ is what exactly do Borgata Babes do? If they simply serve drinks, then weight has nothing to do with it. If, on the other hand, the Borgata Babes sell the glitz, glamor and sex appeal of a casino, perhaps weight can matter quite a bit.

The court agreed with the Casino, holding that the weight policy was not gender discrimination, largely because it was applied to both genders and that servers were aware of it when they were hired and affirmed that employers can legally maintain policies that require their employees to appear physically fit and "attractive."

Examples:

Age: Mandatory retirement ages for airline pilots and law enforcement for safety reasons and fitness requirements.

Gender: A manufacturer of men's clothing may lawfully advertise for male models, and acting roles that require a certain gender.

National Origin: A restaurant may only hire French chefs.

Religion: A Catholic college may require that its teaching faculty be Catholic.

Questions? Contact us.

Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  requires employers to engage in an interactive process with a disabled employee to determine whether the employer can provide a reasonable accommodation under the ADA to the disabled employee. A reasonable accommodation under the ADA requires that the employee be able to perform essential functions of a position.  Recently, the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal recently reversed summary judgment in favor of an employer, and returned the case to the lower court for additional factual analysis to determine whether an individual whose medication kept him from coming to work on time could be disciplined for attendance violations based upon that lateness. McMillan v. City of New York, 2d Cir., No. 11-3932, March 4, 2013.

Rodney McMillan has schizophrenia and has been employed by the City of New York, for ten years. McMillan’s agency has a flex-time policy, and approves tardiness under certain circumstances.  McMillan’s medication can make him sluggish, which resulted in his late arrival to work several times.  The tardiness is a function of the treatment for his condition.

Prior to 2008, McMillan’s tardiness was never a problem.  Then, in 2008, his supervisors refused to approve any more late arrivals.  McMillan requested a later start time, but was told that this was not possible because McMillan would then have to work after 6:00 p.m., after which no supervisors were present.  McMillan also stated that he would be willing to work through his lunch hour, but that suggestion also was rejected.

In 2009, McMillan was fined eight days’ pay for late arrivals and was ultimately suspended for 30 days without pay for his “long history of tardiness.”

McMillan sued the City, alleging violation of the ADA. In support of his claim, McMillan argued that his requested accommodations were reasonable, as he often worked past 7:00 p.m., so he could arrive late and still work the required 35 hours a week.

The district court granted summary judgment for the City, holding that the court was “required to give considerable deference to the employer’s judgment” as to whether timely arrival at work was an essential function of a particular job.  On appeal, the Second Circuit reversed, finding that while a “timely arrival is normally an essential function,” the lower court “appears to have simply assumed that McMillan’s job required at least seven hours of work each day and that the work could not be successfully performed by banking time on some days to cover tardiness on others.”

The Second Circuit pointed out the facts that McMillan’s lateness had been allowed for years without discipline, and that the City allows flex time hours and regularly permits employees to “bank” time to cover certain late arrivals, all of which undermine the City’s assertion that it would have been an undue hardship to grant McMillan’s request for modified work hours.

The take-away  is that a Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA may require an employer to allow for flexible working time for its employees, where such a reasonable accommodation would still enable that employee to perform the essential functions of his or her position.

Disability Discrimination in New York

Disability Discrimination in New York Unlawful Termination – Disability Discrimination

Extended Leave of Absence May Be a Reasonable Accommodation Under New York City Human Rights Law

The following post addresses a topic of disability discrimination in New York – whether an extended leave of absence may be considered a reasonable accommodation under New York City Human Rights Law.  In LaCourt v. Shenanigans Knits, Ltd., No. 102391/11  (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty., Nov. 14, 2012), an employee informed her supervisor of her recent breast cancer diagnosis and decision to undergo a double mastectomy.  Prior to her scheduled surgery date, the employee met with the company’s president, who informed her that the company was discharging her because of the significant recovery time required for her surgery and the importance of her position. Employee filed suit, alleging disability discrimination in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law.  The employer argued that the employee could not perform the essential functions of her job because she planned to be absent from work for more than three months.  The court rejected this argument and held that the company ignored its legal obligation to consider a reasonable accommodation and to engage in the interactive process with the employee.  While an employer is not required to hold a position open indefinitely, the Court held that a temporary leave of absence, even an extended leave, can be a reasonable accommodation. Because here, the employer did not engage in the interactive process at all and failed to establish that they would have suffered an undue hardship by granting the plaintiff a three-month leave of absence, the Court held that the employee had stated a valid cause of action under the New York City Human Rights law.

If you feel you are the victim of disability discrimination in New York, or have been unlawfully terminated, please contact us.

 

New York Disability Discrimination Law | Unlawful Termination – Disability Discrimination

New York Disability Discrimination Law | Unlawful Termination – Disability Discrimination

Extended Leave of Absence May Be a Reasonable Accommodation Under New York City Human Rights Law

In LaCourt v. Shenanigans Knits, Ltd., No. 102391/11  (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty., Nov. 14, 2012), an employee informed her supervisor of her recent breast cancer diagnosis and decision to undergo a double mastectomy.  Prior to her scheduled surgery date, the employee met with the company’s president, who informed her that the company was discharging her because of the significant recovery time required for her surgery and the importance of her position. Employee filed suit, alleging disability discrimination in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law.  The employer argued that the employee could not perform the essential functions of her job because she planned to be absent from work for more than three months.  The court rejected this argument and held that the company ignored its legal obligation to consider a reasonable accommodation and to engage in the interactive process.  While an employer is not required to hold a position open indefinitely, the Court held that a temporary leave of absence, even an extended leave, can be a reasonable accommodation. Because here, the employer did not engage in the interactive process at all and failed to establish that they would have suffered an undue hardship by granting the plaintiff a three-month leave of absence, the Court held that the employee had stated a valid cause of action under the New York City Human Rights law.

If you feel you have been discriminated on due to a disability, or are the victim of unlawful termination, please contact us.