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Act fast to fix computer glitch that threatens to compromise disability accommodation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If a technology problem interferes with a disabled employee’s attempt to use medical leave, fix the problem fast. Otherwise, you may be liable for claims that you violated the ADA’s disability accommodations ­requirements.

Recent case: Gloria, an employee of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was injured at work and went out on medical leave. At some time during her approved leave, a computer system upgrade listed her as both on medical leave and as absent without leave. The system then generated and sent a termination letter.

Gloria tried to get her attorneys to fix the problem, but no one at the school district could figure out how to undo the termination.

She sued, alleging failure to engage in the interactive accommodations process as well as failure to accommodate her disability with a medical leave.

The court said she had a case. Gloria had been approved for medical leave, but then lost that accommo­dation through a computer mal­­func­­tion. Someone should have fixed the error within a reasonable period of time. Failure to do so meant a failure to accommodate. (Rommel v. Los Angeles Unified School District, No. B253405, Court of Appeal of Cali­­for­­nia, 2015)

Final note: If technology problems affect disabled employees, consult your IT staff—and your attorney—right away. It’s essential to implement at least a temporary fix. Surely Gloria could have been temporarily reinstated or even “rehired” while the technology team or a vendor resolved the problem.

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