Earlier this year Jewel-Osco agreed to pay $3.2 million and to be subject to extensive remedial relief to resolve the lawsuit the EEOC filed against Supervalu, Inc. (Jewel-Osco’s parent company) alleging the grocery store had a policy and practice of discriminating against employees with disabilities. According to the EEOC, Jewel-Osco had a written policy and practice of terminating disabled employees if they could not return to work after a year.
The problem with Jewel-Osco’s policy and practice is that no consideration was given as to whether the employees could return to work if given a reasonable accommodation. Allegedly, Jewel-Osco effectively communicated that disabled employees must be 100% healed to return to work, which is patently unlawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition to the monetary settlement, Jewel-Osco agreed to revamp its employment policies, conduct training sessions with respect to the issue of making reasonable accommodations, and track and report its progress to the EEOC.
Importantly, the Jewel-Osco settlement comes less than one year after the $6.2 million settlement involving Sears Roebuck & Co., where Sears maintained a leave policy that terminated disabled workers after they exhausted workers’ compensation rights without conducting an individual assessment to determine if a reasonable accommodation would allow the employee to return to work.
These cases serve a critical reminder that engaging in the “interactive process” with employees to identify the possibility of offering a good faith reasonable accommodation is a mandatory step — a step that must be included in an employer’s disability leave policy or practices. The bottom line is that employers should undertake an immediate review of its leave policies and practices to ensure it does not become the EEOC’s next target.