The EEOC has filed complaints against three companies to redress what seems to be a burgeoning trend: targeting disabled employees for layoff. The case in Maryland charges a land surveying firm with laying off two longtime workers while retaining people with less seniority and less experience. The layoffs occurred after the company had required employees to fill out a questionnaire delving into this medical conditions and the medications they took. The two laid off individuals had hypertension and diabetes. According to the complaint, they were able to perform their duties without an accommodation.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer may not discriminate against an employee with a disability, or who is regarded as having a disability, or who has a record of a disability, so long as the person can do the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. In many cases the dispute centers on the identification of what are the truly essential functions of the job, in others whether the accommodation is reasonable. But here, the laid off workers were able to do their jobs. In a case filed in Atlanta by the EEOC, a worker who had been managing to do her job as a cashier at Rite Aid with arthritis by using a small stool at the cash register. After seven years of this accommodation, a new manager removed the stool because he “did not like the idea” of her using the school.
Discrimination against disabled employees probably stems from several psychological and financial sources. Some people just do not like people who are different, or have squeamishness about someone with a disease or disfigurement. Some employers calculate the cost of insurance premiums by someone with a medical condition, or assume that the person will take off more time than others. The law attempts to deal with this range of motivations by making it illegal to discriminate against someone who has a disability, has a record of a disability (such as cancer in remission), or is regarded as having a disability (such as where the person is rumored to have AIDS).
Although the EEOC’s complaint does not highlight this, the action of the Maryland firm requiring an questionnaire about health conditions and medications is a major no-no. Employers are allowed to ask if someone can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. After hiring the person, the employer can explore the accommodations needed in more detail. But here, the EEOC alleges that employees who are doing their jobs without problem are subjected to an intrusive questionnaire, which was then used to weed them out. Neither of these actions passes muster under the ADA.