Does your organization’s absenteeism policy discriminate against the disabled?

The NYC Commission of Human Rights (NYCCHR) has been aggressively pursuing claims of disability discrimination on behalf of complainants and recovering monetary penalties and fines from employers who are alleged to have engaged in disability discrimination. Last year, the agency pursued a hospital for terminating an employee after she took sick leave when hospitalized (and where the hospital had considered the sick leave in its decision to terminate). According to the NYCCHR, the hospital’s absenteeism policy did not adequately provide for reasonable accommodations of disabilities. The hospital was required to pay the complainant $14,000 in back pay and emotional distress damages; an additional $14,000 to the City of New York as a civil penalty; provide anti-discrimination training to all 400 supervisory-level employees; update its employment policies and procedures to comply with the NYC Human Rights Law; and display copies of the Commission’s “General Info Card” in prominent common areas at all of its places of business. This followed another disability discrimination case brought by the NYCCHR where the employer, a large housing complex, agreed to pay $240,000 to a complainant alleging disability and religious discrimination.

Considerations for employers:

Ensure that absenteeism policies provide for reasonable accommodations of disabilities (sometimes, a leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation) and properly train managers on the laws regarding disability discrimination and reasonable accommodation of disabilities, religion and pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.

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