In June the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held hearings on leave as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities, warning that inflexible company policies would incur EEOC legal wrath, and today that warning turned into reality as Verizon was forced to accept a $20-million settlement of a lawsuit over its hard-core absence policy.

The consent decree settling the suit, which is pending judicial approval, represents the largest disability discrimination settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.  The EEOC charged that Verizon violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to make exceptions to its “no fault” attendance plans to accommodate employees with disabilities.  Under the challenged attendance plans, if an employee accumulated a designated number of “chargeable absences,” Verizon placed the employee on a disciplinary step that could ultimately result in more serious disciplinary consequences, including termination. 

The EEOC asserted that Verizon failed to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, such as making an exception to its attendance plans for individuals whose “chargeable absences” were caused by their disabilities.  Instead, the EEOC said, the company disciplined or terminated employees who needed such accommodations.

The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability.  The law also requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation, such as paid or unpaid leave, to an employee with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

Employers, this settlement shows the seriousness of the EEOC in enforcing the provisions of the ADA and the ADA Amendments Act. Get in compliance today with the fine Personnel Concepts manuals and posters found in our Harassment and Discrimination section on our Web site.