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Be on guard for often-Overlooked ‘Associated with’ claims

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Office Management,Payroll Management

A frequently disregarded ADA provision often catches employers by surprise. The ADA, which prohibits discrimination of disabled people at work, also bans discrimination against employees because they "associate with" someone who is disabled.

For example, it's illegal to turn down an applicant because you think she might need extra time off to care for her mentally disabled child, or to refuse to hire her for fear of high health insurance costs.

The ADA doesn't require you to make reasonable accommodations for employees who need to care for a disabled person. (That's a right protected by the FMLA, which allows unpaid time off to care for relatives with serious health conditions.) But the ADA does make it illegal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on his or her association with the disabled.

Recent case: Susan Overley worked for Covenant transport and was the mother of a severely disabled daughter. The child lived in a nursing home, and Overley preferred to have weekends off so she could visit.

During the busy holiday season, all employees were required to work weekends unless they had already scheduled pre-approved FMLA leave. Overley didn't have approved leave and she missed work to visit her daughter at the nursing home.

The company fired her and she sued, claiming a violation of the ADA's "associated-with" provision. She lost the case.

The company won because it could prove that it fired Overley for actually missing work and for being an unreliable employee. Overley hadn't been fired because she "might" have attendance problems due to her daughter's disability. (Overley v. Covenant Transport, No. 05-5280, 6th Cir., 2006)  

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