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Friday, October 20, 2017

Four Reasonable Accommodations to Watch in 2018


No. 1. FMLA/ADA coordination. Recently a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that an extended medical leave of absence is not a “reasonable” accommodation within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the Court, a reasonable accommodation has to allow the employee to work. Because an employee can’t work while on an extended medical leave, leaves are governed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (as well as employer policies) rather than the ADA. The court did not rule out the possibility of short or intermittent time off as an ADA accommodation. An employee signed job description is critical to winning this battle.

No. 2. Medical marijuana accommodation. Not too long ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said that employers may be required under the state disability rights statute to make reasonable accommodations for the use of medical marijuana by a cardholder. The court specifically said that “reasonable accommodation” could include treating a positive medical marijuana test result as a “negative” and allowing the applicant or employee to work. Employers who have employees that report to work in jurisdictions that have: (1) legalized medical marijuana; (2) state has an anti-discrimination medical marijuana cardholder statute; and (3) state has a disability rights law, should review their Drug Testing policies and practices carefully. But if your employees are covered by a federal law that prohibits all marijuana use, such as U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, then you can continue to comply with federal law even if you’re in a medical marijuana/disability rights state. But watch out, because federal law generally does not require you to fire an employee who tests positive — it usually requires only that you remove the employee from the position that is covered. Again, your job description and DOT Policy will govern your options.

No. 3. Pregnancy accommodation. Since the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Young v. UPS, employers must make reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions. Employers with employees who need pregnancy accommodations should use what they’ve learned from making reasonable accommodations under the ADA: specifically, be open to making accommodations, engage in the interactive process with the employee, feel free to choose the least expensive/least disruptive accommodation that is still effective (allows the employee to perform the essential functions of the job), and generally treat the pregnant employee who needs accommodation the same way you would treat an employee with a disability or work-related injury. As the courts have interpreted Title VII’s pregnancy protections, “pregnancy” encompasses much more than the nine months of gestation. It includes pre-pregnancy (trying to get pregnant, trying not to get pregnant, contraceptive use, fertility treatments), gestation (including miscarriages and elective abortions), and postpartum and lactation.

No. 4. Wellness programs. This summer, a federal judge in the District of Columbia struck down the EEOC’s wellness regulations as they pertained to the ADA and to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). In a nutshell, the regulations allowed employers to use financial and other incentives (within limits) to get employees to participate in employer wellness programs. Rather than vacate the regulations, the judge remanded them to the EEOC to fix. The EEOC now says that it will issue revised regulations sometime in 2018. Expect those to be more employer friendly to making healthcare more affordable for employers.


Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Parts of this Column were part of a Constangy Blog Post Robin Shea. Blog at www.alabamaatwork