Most lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act involve a failure to accommodate an employee’s disability. But there’s another type of violation that can be just as costly for employers.
In addition to protecting employees who have disabilities, the ADA also makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee who “has a relationship or association” with a disabled person. Usually, that means a disabled family member, though, unlike the FMLA, for example, the law doesn’t require a familial relationship.
In one recent case, a woman was fired by her employer while her husband was being treated for cancer. Shortly before she was fired, an exec at the company asked her about the costs of her medical claims – which were high because of the cancer treatments – and asked if she’d looked into any less-expensive methods of care. She was later fired, and she sued. The court ruled in the woman’s favor, finding it likely that she was let go because of her husband’s illness (Cite: Dewitt v. Proctor).
More heads up
In addition to benefits-related issues, here are some other ways companies can slip up and find themselves in court:
- The company won’t hire or promote an employee with a disabled child, based on the belief that the employee would miss too much work while caring for the child.
- A manager puts special demands on an employee (for example, being stricter when approving leave requests or flex-time than with other workers) because of a fear that he or she might miss too much work to care for a disabled family member.
One thing the ADA doesn’t require companies to do is accommodate the non-employee’s disability. For example, you won’t need to make exceptions to your attendance policy to let an employee care for someone who’s disabled (however, cases like that often are covered by the FMLA).
To read the EEOC’s guidance on association discrimination, click here.