EEOC, health care provider, reach agreement concerning “inflexible” leave policy

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News from New Jersey

Princeton Health Care Systems (PHCS) will pay a $1.35 million fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding its fixed leave policy.

“This case should send a clear message that a leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation under the law,” said Robert D. Rose, regional attorney of EEOC’s New York District Office, in a news release from June 30. “Policies that limit the amount of leave, even if they comply with other laws, violate the (Americans with Disabilities Act) when they call for the automatic firing of employees with a disability after they reach a rigid, inflexible leave limit.”

Under PHCS’ policy, employees were automatically fired if they missed more than 12 weeks of employment during the course of a year. This 12-week policy, which mirrors PHCS’s minimum obligations under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, provided no flexibility for people who may need to take a longer leave of absence due to their disabilities.

Between 2007 and 2010, about two dozen employees with PHCS filed complaints with the EEOC regarding the policy, prompting the agency to file a lawsuit in 2010, according to an article from NJ.com.

As the EEOC saw it, PHCS policy violated the ADA by failing to provide an individualized assessment for each employee, to determine whether a longer leave of absence would constitute a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Under the consent decree, which has been approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New Jersey, PHCS may no longer retain a blanket leave policy. Instead it must engage in an “interactive process with covered employees, including employees with a disability related to pregnancy, when deciding how much leave is needed.”

In addition, PHCS must loosen its requirements for allowing people on disability leave to return to work. Specifically, it can no longer require these employees to “present a fitness for duty certification stating that they are able to return to work without any restrictions.”

PHCS operates the University Medical Center of Princeton University.