There could be a time when you question an employee's relationship with an individual with disabilities in making benefits and other employment-related decisions, such as whether you need to provide more benefits or if you can grant time off. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressed those questions by releasing a Q&A-style document about a little-known provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) known as the “association provision.”
The association provision prohibits an employer from discriminating against an applicant or employee who has a known association with an individual with a disability.
The ADA does not require a family relationship for an individual to be protected by the association provision. The key: whether the employer is motivated by the individual's relationship or association with a person who has a disability.
Here are association provision protections as they relate to benefits. An employer may not:
deny an employee healthcare coverage available to others because of the disability of someone with whom the employee has a relationship or association;
reduce the level of health insurance benefits it offers to an employee because of that relationship or association with an individual with a disability; and
subject an employee to different terms or conditions of insurance.
Note: An employer does not have to provide health insurance coverage to employees who have dependents with disabilities beyond that provided to other employees. However, if the employer's health insurance plan has terms or provisions that make disability-based distinctions (e.g., provisions that single out specific disabilities, groups of disabilities, or disabilities generally), the plan itself may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act unless an employer can demonstrate that the plan provision is not a ruse to evade the purposes of the ADA.
Time Off Is A Benefit, Too
Other benefits of employment include time off for personal reasons. The EEOC cautioned employers to not treat an employee differently than other employees in other benefits and privileges of employment because of his/her association with a person with a disability. That means, when considering an employee's request for a reasonable accommodation in the form of leave, you must consider other leave requests you've granted and the reasons behind them.
Example: Kyung asks for unpaid leave to care for her mother with a disability, who will receive medical treatments. Her supervisor denies the leave request, telling Kyung that the company's leave policy is not intended to cover this type of situation. A few days later, the supervisor approves Diego's request for a week of unpaid leave to attend father-son camp with his son. If the firm grants Diego's request for unpaid leave for a family reason, it is a violation of the ADA's association provision to deny Kyung's request because she needs the time to assist her mother with a disability.
To view the EEOC Q&A on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Association Provision, click here: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/association_ada.html.
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