Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Forcing an Employee to Quit Because of a Disability Is Illegal, Court Finds

Life on the road can be tough. Just ask Robert Hurtt. After working for a few months as a travelling salesman, Hurtt was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. He asked his boss for time off pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and then to work a reduced scheduled after he returned so he could manage his anxiety and depression. In response, Hurtt’s employer took away his draw, which is a loan an employer gives to an employee who earns commissions, and stopped paying Hurtt’s travelling expenses. As a result, Hurtt quit. 

He did not do so quietly, however, filing a lawsuit against his former employer. Hurtt alleged that his employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against him because of his medical condition and refusing to give him a reasonable accommodation. He also alleged that his employer violated the FMLA by refusing to allow him to take time off from work to attend to his medical condition. 

The ADA forbids an employer from taking negative action against an employee due to that employee’s medical condition. It also requires the employer to make reasonable changes to the workplace that allow the disabled employee to work. The FMLA requires an employer to allow an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off from work to attend to a medical condition. It also allows an employee to take intermittent leave to attend to a medical condition.  So, for example, if an employee can only work part-time due to injury or illness, he is permitted to take 12 weeks, or 60 days, of unpaid time off over a 12-month period. So, under the FMLA, Hurtt could have taken one day off a week for an entire year to manage his anxiety and depression. 

The court ruled in favor of Hurtt, holding that he stated a claim that his employer discriminated against him in violation of the ADA and FMLA, and that this illegal discrimination forced him to quit. The court noted that it is illegal for an employer to take actions that discourage an employee from exercising rights under the ADA, FMLA, or any other law. 

When an employee reports that he is suffering from a medical condition, an employer must tread carefully. The employer must be careful not to take any action that might be viewed as discriminating against the employee due to that condition. We suggest that employers contact an experienced attorney to review policies dealing with sick or injured employees.