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Disability: Consider job changes, extra leave

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations that can include job modifications and even additional time off to recuperate.

You could face expensive and time-consuming litigation if you don’t explore both options before discharging an employee who has used up his or her available leave.

Recent case: Gracie worked as a lab technician for the Neil Jones Food Co., testing salsas for acidity, salt content, taste, consistency and a variety of other attributes. She also worked on replicating recipes sent in by customers. Her job generally required standing for long periods of time.

Gracie developed degenerative disc disease, which made standing painful. However, sitting brought some relief. After being diagnosed, she went back to work but found the pain debilitating. Her doctors recommended she take leave for a few months and receive physical therapy.

She requested medical leave under the federal FMLA and the California Family Rights Act and was approved for the time off.

As the end of her leave was approaching, Gracie was told that unless she requested more time off, she would lose her job. She requested and was granted another 30 days of unpaid leave. At the end of that period, her doctors recommended another 15 days for additional treatment. Gracie told her employer she believed this would be enough to allow her to return. Even so, Neil Jones Food refused and fired her.

Gracie sued, alleging that her employer had refused to accommodate her by not discussing the use of a stool as an accommodation and by not granting her request for just two more weeks off.

The court said she had enough evidence that the employer hadn’t engaged in the interactive accommodations process to warrant a jury trial. (Zapata v. Neil Jones Food, No. 1:14-CV-02027, ED CA, 2016)

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