April 4, 2019 Category: Disability Discrimination
Virginia Hoover was employed as a radiologic technologist at a hospital in Camarillo when she was injured at work. She claims that her employer discriminated against her because of her injury and failed to provide necessary accommodations. The hospital ultimately decided to terminate her employment because she could not perform her job duties.
California Employers Have to Provide Reasonable Accommodations
Hoover was injured at work while moving medical equipment. The extent of her injuries interfered with her ability to perform her regular job duties. In California, employers cannot simply terminate employees because they have a physical or mental disability.
Instead, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act requires employers to “provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with a physical or mental disability to…perform the essential functions of their jobs unless it would cause an undue hardship.”
What Are Reasonable Accommodations?
Here, Hoover claims that she was the victim of workplace discrimination because her employer failed to provide her with accommodations that were necessary to perform critical job functions. What are reasonable accommodations?
There is no hard and fast definition of what may qualify as a reasonable accommodation. The only real requirement is that accommodations don’t impose an undue hardship on employers. Which accommodations are appropriate and whether or not an accommodation creates an undue hardship will vary from case to case.
It’s up to employers and employees to sit down in an interactive process to come up with a solution that works for everyone. In fact, employers are required to “engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process.” The employer should assess the employee’s job duties and identify ways to assist the employee in the performance of their job.
Examples of reasonable accommodations can include:
- Altering an employee’s work schedule or hours
- Allowing more frequent breaks
- Modifying or changing job duties, or
- Granting leave for medical or rehabilitative care.
In other words, employers have to set their employees up for success. Is there is a way to help an employee perform an essential job function? Would providing that accommodation not be cost prohibitive or unreasonable? If so, employers are obligated to help their employees succeed.
Is Offering Leave After an Injury Enough?
The California hospital argues that it did, in fact, accommodate Hoover after her injury because they approved a leave of absence. The hospital also claims that it tried to help her return to work after her leave was over. Are these steps sufficient to satisfy California’s requirement for employees to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees?
Probably not. It appears that while the hospital did give Hoover time off to recover, it did not do anything to put her in a position to succeed once she returned to work. Her injury was still a factor when she returned from leave. As a result, she struggled to perform her essential job duties. Attorneys for the hospital ultimately decided that her job performance warranted termination.
There were probably solutions the hospital could have implemented to help Hoover without creating an undue burden. A jury decided that the hospital’s failure to do this was a violation of California state anti-discrimination law. Now the hospital has been ordered to pay $1.3 million to compensate for its discriminatory conduct.