Friday, August 5, 2016

Fired for Being HIV-Positive

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced this week that it has filed a lawsuit against a Bentonville, Arkansas McDonalds’ operators, for wrongfully firing a worker for being HIV-positive. The Plaintiff, referred to as John Doe in the suit, was hired by the McDonald’s franchise in November of 2014. A few months later a manager asked about his HIV status. The manager had also noted that a female employee had been previously fired for being HIV-positive. Soon after the inquiry by the manager, the Plaintiff was fired. 

The suit claims that the McDonald’s restaurant, owned and operated by Mathews Management Co. and Peach Orchard, Inc. in Bentonville, Arkansas violated the ADA when it fired the HIV-positive employee and because it maintains a policy requiring all employees to report the use of prescription medication. Under the ADA, people who are HIV-positive are considered disabled and are provided legal protections against discriminatory behavior in employment. People with disabilities can be defined as “anyone who is substantially impaired in life’s activities.

The Companies own and operate 34 McDonald’s restaurants, including all of the restaurants in Northwest Arkansas and adjacent areas in Missouri and Oklahoma. The Defendants maintain that the Plaintiff was actually fired for ongoing attendance problems.  The suit notes that the Companies have not fired other employees who had the same or more attendance violations than the Plaintiff.

“The ADA mandates that persons with disabilities have an equal opportunity to achieve success in the workplace… People with HIV face enough obstacles in their lives. The ability to work in an environment free of discrimination should not be one of them,” stated Katherine W. Kores, the District Director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office. 

While there are valid, non-discriminatory reasons for requiring employees to report prescription use, these policies should be tailored to work related purposes. Rarely is a blanket requirement to report all medication use appropriate. Rather, employers should limit reporting requirements to those medications which may impair the employee’s ability to perform their duties.

One of the biggest mistakes made by the employer in this case is the inquiry to the employee of his HIV status.  Rarely is it appropriate for an employer to inquire whether an employee has a particular disease or condition. Inquiries should generally be limited to whether the employee can perform the essential functions of the job, which may include conforming to safety standards.