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EEOC Defends Workers' Compensation Leave in Court

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Kansas City, MOA workers compensation issue that has less to do with workers' safety and everything to do with workers' rights has recently been brought to the public conscience.

The issue at hand is inflexible leave policies, whereby workers are being terminated at the conclusion of a set workers' compensation leave instead of being given the opportunity to return to work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has long argued that so-called 'no-fault' leave policies potentially violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has been contesting these policies in court.

The EEOC filed a class-action lawsuit in 2004 against Sears, Roebuck and Co., alleging that its inflexible workers' compensation leave policy violated the ADA. The lead plaintiff in the case was a service technician who took workers' compensation leave after being injured on the job. The technician claimed that he made repeated attempts to return to work following his leave, but that the defendant failed to reinstate him.

The EEOC asserted that Sears automatically terminated disabled employees who exhausted a set amount of workers' comp leave. The suit claimed that Sears failed to consider whether a reasonable accommodation would have allowed the employees to return to work.

The lawsuit was finally settled in September of this year with an agreement by Sears to pay $6.2 million—the largest ADA settlement generated from a single lawsuit in the history of the EEOC.

More recently, the EEOC launched a lawsuit against United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), alleging that the company violated the ADA by maintaining an inflexible leave policy. The lawsuit focused on an administrative assistant who took a 12-month leave of absence after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The employee returned to work on schedule, but requested additional time off because of the side effects she was experiencing with her medication.

Instead, she was terminated. According to the December 2009 issue of the Kansas Employment Law Letter, UPS grants employees up to 12 months off for medical leave, but fails to adequately accommodate disabled employees due to the "arbitrary deadlines" imposed for a return to work. The EEOC contends that a fair response would have been to extend the leave of the employee or to assign her to another position within the company.

The EEOC has also filed a lawsuit against Supervalu, Inc. The agency claims that Supervalu's leave policy prohibits disabled employees from returning to work at the end of their leave period unless they can return without any special accommodations.


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