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  • This series, beginning here, explores the top ten ways that employers deny employees their medical leave rights.

    #7 – Instituting a “No Fault” Attendance Policy

    Also subject to challenge are “no fault” attendance policies in which employees are subject to discipline for reaching a certain number of absences, regardless of the cause of the absences. Such policies adversely affect people with disabilities, and can evidence a failure to accommodate if they do not make exceptions for individuals whose “chargeable absences” were caused by their disabilities. In 2011, Verizon entered into a settlement with the EEOC in which it agreed to pay $20 million to settle a nationwide class disability discrimination lawsuit that challenged its no-fault attendance policy. (See Verizon to Pay $20 Million to Settle Nationwide EEOC Disability Suit (July 6, 2011).)


  • This series, beginning here, explores the top ten ways that employers deny employees their medical leave rights.

    #6 – Instituting A Maximum Leave Policy

    Many employers have “maximum leave” policies, under which employees are automatically terminated after they have been on leave for a certain period of time. These can violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). Simply put: a maximum-leave policy does not satisfy an employer’s obligation to engage in the interactive process and provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee who needs additional leave. (See EEOC, Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act (May 9, 2016).) This is the case even if the amount of leave time the employer permits is seemingly generous (for example, permitting employees on short-term disability to be out on leave for a year).

    The ADA and FEHA require that an employer assess each disability accommodation request on a case-by-case basis. This means that it is unlawful to simply apply an inflexible maximum leave policy to an employee with a disability who needs more leave. Instead, the employer must provide additional leave unless granting the time off would cause an undue hardship or there is another effective accommodation that will allow that employee to work.

    What this means to a worker who needs additional disability-related leave time: …


  • This series, beginning here, explores the top ten ways that employers deny employees their medical leave rights.

    #5 – Failing To Treat A Request For Leave As Protected

    When an employee needs medical leave, he should provide notice sufficient to make the employer aware that he needs the leave, as well as the anticipated timing and duration of the leave. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11091.) However, the employee need not use any legal terms or buzzwords to request medical leave. As the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) regulations confirm:

    The employee need not expressly assert rights under CFRA or FMLA, or even mention CFRA or FMLA, to meet the notice requirement; however, the employee must state the reason the leave is needed, such as, for example, the expected birth of a child or for medical treatment. The mere mention of “vacation,” other paid time off, or resignation does not render the notice insufficient, provided the underlying reason for the request is CFRA-qualifying, and the employee communicates that reason to the employer. The employer should inquire further of the employee if necessary to determine whether the employee is requesting CFRA leave and to obtain necessary information concerning the leave (i.e., commencement date, expected duration, and other permissible information). An employee has an obligation to respond to an employer’s questions designed to determine whether an absence is potentially CFRA-qualifying. Failure to respond to permissible employer inquiries regarding the leave request may result in denial of CFRA protection if the employer is unable to determine whether the leave is CFRA-qualifying.

    (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11091.)

    Oftentimes, even when employers know that the employee needs time off for a CFRA/FMLA- or ADA/FEHA-qualifying reason, they may claim that …


  • This series, beginning here, explores the top ten ways that employers deny employees their medical leave rights.

    #3 – Denying Pregnant Women Their Full Leave Time

    Far too many employers demand that women return to work prematurely from their pregnancy/maternity leaves because they do not understand the interplay between the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (“PDLL”), the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”). This is often the case when companies rely on human resources professionals located out of state who are not familiar with California law.

    While the FMLA and CFRA generally overlap in their coverage, pregnancy is one situation where they do not. The FMLA covers leaves related to pregnancy and childbirth, while CFRA excludes pregnancy and childbirth-related medical conditions from its definition of “serious health condition.” (See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11093.) Pregnancy disability leaves are instead protected under California law through the PDLL, which provides for up to four months of job-protected pregnancy disability leave for women disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. (Cal. Gov’t Code § 12945, subd. (a)(1).) PDLL’s protections apply to all women who work in California for employers with five or more employees; there are no eligibility requirements. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11037.)

    Thus, in California, pregnancy disability leave under the PDLL runs concurrently with FMLA leave, but CFRA runs consecutively with it, so that an employee can get an additional 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave after their pregnancy disability leave ends. What this means is that a California employee who is covered by PDL, CFRA, and FMLA can get nearly seven months of leave (technically, four months and twelve workweeks) as she first exhausts her pregnancy disability leave for her own pregnancy- and childbirth-related conditions, and then takes the next twelve weeks as CFRA time to bond with her baby.

    In addition, women who continue to be disabled by pregnancy or childbirth-related conditions even after the expiration of pregnancy disability and CFRA leave may also be entitled to…


  • This series, beginning here, explores the top ten ways that employers deny employees their medical leave rights.

    #2 – Failing to Consider All Medical Leave Rights Together

    Each of the leave laws that protect California employees operate independently of each other. This means that “[a]n employer must therefore provide leave under whichever statutory provision provides the greater rights to employees.” (29 C.F.R. § 825.702(a).) For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) allows an employer to place an employee returning from a covered leave in an “equivalent” position. (29 C.F.R. § 825.215.) In contrast, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), an employee who is granted leave as a reasonable accommodation is “entitled to return to his/her same position unless the employer demonstrates that holding open the position would impose an undue hardship.” (See EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA (Oct. 17, 2002), at Q&A 18.) Therefore, if an employee on a medical leave is covered by FMLA, the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”), the ADA, and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), the employer would need to reinstate her to her original position following a return from a medical leave, absent the employer demonstrating undue hardship.

    The FMLA regulations, at 29 C.F.R. section 825.702, provide several additional examples of the interplay between the ADA and FMLA, including the following…


  • All too often, when employees with disabilities request medical leave, employers fail to properly respond to the requests. They may deny medical leaves to which employees are entitled, may impose requirements that are not lawful, or may fail to honor employees’ reinstatement rights. Over the next few weeks, this series will explore the top ten ways that employers deny employees their medical leave rights.

    #1 – Failing to Consider Leave as a Reasonable Accommodation

    When employees with disabilities request medical leaves, employers sometimes make the mistake of considering their obligations only under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. section 2601 et seq., and California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”), Government Code section 12945.2. Employers may wrongly believe that if employees do not meet the eligibility criteria under the FMLA and CFRA, or if they have already exhausted their FMLA/CFRA leave, they are simply ineligible for job-protected medical leave.

    The law is clear, however, that leave can be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. section 12101, and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), Government Code section 12940 et seq. (See, e.g., Hanson v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 215, 226 [holding that “a finite leave can be a reasonable accommodation under FEHA, provided it is likely that at the end of the leave, the employee would be able to perform his or her duties”]; Nunes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (9th Cir. 1999) 164 F.3d 1243 [“Even an extended medical leave, or an extension of an existing leave period, may be a reasonable accommodation if it does not pose an undue hardship on the employer.”]; EEOC, Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“EEOC Leave Guidance”) (May 9, 2016); 29 C.F.R. Pt. 1630 App. § 1630.2(o) [identifying as possible reasonable accommodations “permitting the use of accrued paid leave or providing additional unpaid leave for necessary treatment”].) Note that the FEHA looks to the ADA to provide a “floor of protection,” with the FEHA providing equal or greater protections to employees. (Cal. Gov’t Code § 12926.1.) For that reason, federal authorities are helpful in exploring the minimum protections afforded to employees.

    ADA/FEHA leave often covers situations where FMLA and CFRA leave do not apply…

  • Most people know that employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. But they are also required to accommodate those whom they perceive or regard as disabled. A new California case, Moore v. Regents of the Univ. of California, 248 Cal.App.4th 216 (2016) affirms these obligations and has terrific language with respect to employee accommodation and leave rights.

    Background

    Deborah Moore worked as UCSD’s Director of Marketing. In mid-2010, a new person took over as her supervisor and sought to restructure the department. A couple of months later, Moore was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a condition affecting the heart muscles that can lead to heart failure. Her doctor ordered her to wear a heart monitor and external defibrillator for several weeks. Moore told her supervisor about her heart condition and needs, and assured the supervisor that “there was nothing to worry about, that it would take care of itself” and that she would be able to do her job, “no problem.” Her supervisor, however, was concerned—unilaterally deciding to “lighten [Moore’s] load to get rid of some of the stress.” The supervisor asked HR what to do in the case of a medical event and admitted that she asked how to handle Moore as a liability. After that, the relationship between Moore and her supervisor soured, with Moore believing that the supervisor was unfairly criticizing her, yelling at her, taking away her duties, and demoting her because of her heart condition. Some time later, Moore advised that she would need some time off to get a pacemaker put in. The supervisor then eliminated Moore’s position and terminated her—even though Moore had more seniority than a colleague of hers and that this was a violation of policy. In the following six-month period, new employees were hired, including for roles that Moore was well-qualified to perform.

    Moore’s Complaint and History of Her Case

    Moore sued, alleging causes of action under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, failure to engage in the interactive process, and retaliation, as well as causes of action for interference and retaliation under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Note that Moore’s disability causes of action were based on perceived disability, rather than actual disability.

    The Regents moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Moore appealed.

    The Court of Appeal’s Decision

    The Court of Appeal held that summary judgment was improperly granted with respect to all but one of Moore’s causes of action. In doing so, the court followed the holding of Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 140 Cal.App.4th 34 (2006), which holds that employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations and engage in the interactive process with those that they regard as disabled. It quoted the rationale laid out in Gelfo:

    “An employer who in unable or unwilling to shed his or her stereotypic assumptions based on a faulty or prejudiced perception of an employees abilities must be prepared to accommodate the artificial limitations created by his or her own faulty perceptions.”

  • Mom hugging child

    Update 9/4/16: On August 29, 2016, the Court of Appeal issued an opinion on rehearing that retreated from its prior holding that the FEHA creates a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person. However, the opinion still holds that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the defendant on the plaintiff’s claims for associational disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The court indicated that, given that the plaintiff has abandoned his failure to accommodate cause of action, it would not decide the point. It noted, however, that “when section 12940, subdivision (m) requires employers to reasonably accommodate ‘the known physical … disability of an applicant or employee,’ read in conjunction with other relevant provisions, subdivision (m) may reasonably be interpreted to require accommodation based on the employee’s association with a physically disabled person.” Because the cause of action was abandoned, “[w]e only observe that the accommodation issue is not settled and that it appears significantly intertwined with the statutory prohibition against disability discrimination. . . .” I leave the below analysis as a discussion of what could have been a dramatic expansion of rights for California workers who care for disabled relatives, reflecting an issue that continues to remain undecided for now.

    A new case—Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 180—dramatically expands the rights of California employees who care for disabled relatives. It holds that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) creates a duty for employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee who is associated with a disabled person.

    Background

    Employees with disabilities have long been protected in the workplace, including by the FEHA and by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are protected from discrimination, retaliation, and harassment based on their disabilities. In addition, employers must take affirmative steps to accommodate them to enable them to work. If a qualified employee with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must provide it unless it “can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.” There are many types of reasonable accommodations, such as job restructuring and changes to job duties, modified schedules, reassignments, use of specialized equipment, and medical leave.

    Employees have also been protected from discrimination based on their relationship or association with a person with a known disability. This includes discrimination based on unfounded fears and stigmas (for example, against someone whose partner has HIV) and discrimination based on assumptions that employees might not be as available because of their caregiving obligations (for example, against a parent whose child has special needs).

    However, until recently, employers’ obligations to provide workplace accommodations to people who care for those with disabilities were limited.

  • worker in need of a reasonable accommodation

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) require accommodations for employees with disabilities. If a qualified employee requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must provide it unless it “can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation […]

  • worker denied disability leave

    This is another post in my series on mistakes employers make. In this post, I discuss employer leave policies–specifically those that impose maximum leave amounts and “no fault” attendance policies–and why they can end up unlawfully denying employees their rights. While this post covers obligations under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), I will refer to the ADA only with the understanding that it sets the “floor of protection” under the FEHA (and the FEHA, in fact, affords workers greater protections).

    An Inflexible Maximum Leave Policy Violates the ADA

    Many employers have “maximum leave” policies, under which employees are automatically terminated. . . .

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