By now it is almost cliché to talk about the "Bermuda Triangle" of employment law - difficult issues involving the ADA, FMLA and Worker's Compensation and the consternation they cause employers. Recently, however, Wessels Sherman attorney Alan Seneczko, who manages the firm's Wisconsin office, won a big victory for a client seemingly caught in that quagmire.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a recent decision (June 12, 2019) in the case of Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority has joined the Second, Sixth and Eighth Circuit in finding that Obesity, standing alone, is not an impairment under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) absent an underlying psychological cause. This is an extremely important decision based on the fact that it is estimated that forty (40) percent of the current adult population is dealing with obesity.
In this ever-litigious society of ours, it is comforting to see reason prevail on occasion, and the court's recent decision in Summers v. Target Corporation, Case No. 18-C-32 (E.D. Wis. 2019) is a good example. In Summers, an employee contended that his supervisor caused him anxiety, stress, palpitations and panic disorders, for which he was prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. He took a medical leave and his therapist recommended that he be transferred to another location (and hence, a new supervisor) as an accommodation of his condition. When Target refused, he resigned and sued for failure to accommodate under the ADA.
Administering employee leaves of absence is complicated. For employers of 50 or more employees there obviously are the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and D.O.L. regulations to deal with. Then there is the EEOC, which has interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to require leaves of absence, or extending them under certain circumstances as a reasonable accommodation of an individual's disability. Add worker compensation laws that provide for reinstatement of employees following a work-related illness or injury, as well as an ever growing list of other federal, state and, more recently, local laws governing what employers may or may not do about employee absences and even the most experienced HR professionals have their hands full. Monitoring FMLA leave (especially intermittent leave), work-related absences, military leave, leave as an accommodation and all the legalities of when and how to return workers from such leaves, can be overwhelming. Not surprisingly, many employers have turned to outsourcing these functions, ostensibly to avoid all the hassles and legal pitfalls they present. However, as a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision demonstrates all too clearly, turning these responsibilities over to a third party does not rid an employer of responsibility, or liability, for complying with the many workplace leave laws that are at play.
There are a vast number of employers who have had to deal with employee issues related, in some way, to an "employee disability". There are very few situations arising under a workman's compensation scenario that do not require the employer to make "reasonable accommodation" to an individual who is returning to work from a workman's comp injury and needs "work hardening". That is just one of the few issues that arises and exposes an employer to the breadth of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
On August 26, 2014, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law House Bill 8 (HB8) that amends the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) by placing "new obligations on employers" with regard to their pregnant employees. While the law will not take effect until January 1, 2015, employers should be cognizant of the new obligations imposed upon them.