The EEOC’s challenge to “inflexible” leave policies continued this week, as the agency announced that it had sued Princeton HealthCare System for failing to reasonably accommodate employees who needed medical leave. According to the EEOC press release, Princeton HealthCare "fires employees" who are not qualified for FMLA leave and refuses to grant leave beyond the 12 weeks allowed by the FMLA. The EEOC stated that Princeton HealthCare does not grant exceptions to these policies for qualified individuals with a disability who need additional leave as a reasonable accommodation. The release states that more than a dozen Princeton HealthCare employees with disabilities who requested a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation were denied leave and fired. The case has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the District Court of New Jersey.
The Princeton HealthCare case is the latest in a growing line of cases the EEOC has brought in which the agency claims the employer has had an inflexible leave policy in violation of the ADA. In 2009, the EEOC brought a class action suit against an international package delivery company, claiming the company violated the ADA by rejecting requests for medical leave extensions beyond its 12-month leave policy. Also in 2009, the EEOC settled a lawsuit in which the agency alleged that a national retailer was inflexible in its administration of leave policies for employees with work-related injuries. The retailer paid $6.2 million (a “record-setting” amount, according to the EEOC) as part of a consent decree.
We have cautioned employers about the risks of having a “leave limits” policy in our Special Report on Excusing Absences as a Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA. Employers with a leave limits policy which does not allow for additional leave for disabled employees as a reasonable accommodation, bear the risk of being the subject of the next EEOC press release.