Verizon’s recent massive settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission carries a crucial message for employers.
In what’s being billed as the “the largest disability discrimination settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history,” the telecommunications giant agreed to fork over $20 million for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by refusing to make exceptions to its “no fault” attendance plans to accommodate employees with disabilities.
Under Verizon’s plan, if an employee accumulated a designated number of “chargeable (unexcused) absences,” the company placed the employee on a progressive discipline plan.
The EEOC charged that Verizon failed to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities whose “chargeable absences” were caused by their disabilities. Instead, the EEOC said, the company disciplined or terminated employees who needed such accommodations.
Besides the $20 million price tag, Verizon agreed to revise its attendance and ADA policies and provide mandatory ADA training to employees responsible for administering the company’s attendance plans.
Two things to consider following this case:
First, the new ADA has greatly broadened the definition of what qualifies as a disability. Second, the EEOC has stepped up enforcement efforts under the Obama administration.
And as the Verizon situation indicates, there’s no part of your operation the EEOC won’t probe for violations of the ADA.
We’re going to go out on a limb here and assume that Verizon adopted its “no fault” attendance policy to streamline the way the company handled employee absences. And we’re sure the intention was to set up a fair, clear set of rules that everyone could live with.
But the policy wasn’t flexible enough to handle ADA situations — at least in the eyes of the EEOC.
Is it possible that your company could have a similar time bomb ticking in one of its policies?