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Disabled employee can’t work at all? You can terminate without violating FEHA

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) doesn’t require employers to provide unlimited time off for employees with disabilities. The fact is, employees with disabilities are still expected to come to work (at least some of the time) and perform the essential functions of their jobs with or without accommodations while they are there.

Recent case: Cynthia Lawler man­­aged the Santa Clara store of luxury retailer Montblanc. As the manager, she was in charge of scheduling, making sales and building customer relationships. The store Lawler ran had just six employees, and Lawler regularly put in 60 hours or more every week.

When Lawler developed psoriatic arthritis, her doctors recommended that she cut back to 25 hours per week. Lawler asked Montblanc’s HR office for a reduced work schedule as a reasonable accommodation. HR asked for more documentation in order to assess what restrictions she had and whether it could make the requested accommodations.

Meanwhile, Lawler fell and broke her foot. She told HR she couldn’t work for a month. Then her arthritis doctor drastically changed his reduced workweek recommendation, telling the company Lawler couldn’t work at all for the next five months and would be unable to return until after the busy holiday season.

Lawler went out on short-term disability, but Montblanc terminated her after determining that she couldn’t perform her job’s essential functions—including being unable to come to work at all during the most critical part of the retail year.

Lawler sued, alleging disability discrimination under the FEHA. She lost, since it was clear she couldn’t work and that there was no way for Montblanc to accommodate her disability. (Lawler v. Montblanc, No. 10-CV-01131, ND CA, 2011)

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