Many employers try to make it easy for supervisors and employees alike by implementing a policy which sets a limit on the number of absences an employee can have in a year before they lose their job. It seems like an easy way to ensure that all employees are treated the same as far as the consequences of their absences go. At least employees know where they stand with a hard and fast rule.
The problem with these inflexible policies, according to the EEOC, is that they can result in discrimination against employees with disabilities. It recently filed suit against Wayne Farms, LLC claiming the company’s policy which caps the number of allowable employee absences makes little to no allowance for disability-related absences. In its suit, it claims that Latonya Hodges, a Wayne Farms employee, was terminated when her asthma-related absences exceeded the cap, despite providing medical excuses in violation of the ADA.
Employers with policies that set absence caps should remember that employees with medical conditions which are protected by the ADA may be entitled to relief from the cap as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The general rules apply: if an employer is aware that a worker has a disability under the ADA which impacts their ability to perform the essential functions of their job, they should engage in the interactive process to determine if a reasonable accommodation exists. Additional excused absences (paid or not) may be that reasonable accommodation if doing so does not create an undue hardship for the employer although even the EEOC recognizes that repeated or frequent tardiness or absenteeism over an extended period of time and often without advance notice generally do not need to be accommodated.
The lesson to remember for employers is whenever an employee with a known disability runs afoul of any policy in whole or in part because of their disability, the interactive process is mandatory and a reasonable accommodation may be required.