A: An employer must have one of these to avoid running afoul of discrimination laws when an employee is out on a medical leave of absence.
Q: What is an open-ended leave of absence policy?
Two employers recently learned this lesson the hard way, care of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Family HealthCare Network will pay $1.75 million to resolve disability and pregnancy discrimination claims stemming from its use of “rigid leave policies and practices to deny reasonable accommodations to its disabled and/or pregnant employees, refusing to accommodate them with additional leave and firing them when they were unable to return to work at the end of their leave.”
- The Cato Corporation will pay $3.5 million, also to resolve claims that it “denied reasonable accommodations to certain pregnant employees or those with disabilities, made certain employees take unpaid leaves of absence, and/or terminated them because of their disabilities.”
Says Melissa Barrios, director of EEOC’s Fresno, California, Local Office, “The EEOC continues to see cases in which employers have a rigid leave policy that discriminates against individuals with disabilities or pregnant employees.”
These issues very much remain on the EEOC’s radar. Unless you want to risk being on the receiving end of an expensive enforcement lawsuit, take these lessons to heart and ensure that your leave of absence policies, both in writing and in practice, permit for extended unpaid leaves as reasonable accommodations for disabled and pregnant employees.