[Company Name] provides equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment and prohibits discrimination and harassment of any type without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, disability status, genetics, protected veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state or local laws.
This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruiting, hiring, placement, promotion, termination, layoff, recall, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation and training.
Tips for Small Business
CREATING EMPLOYEE POLICIES
Small businesses may be able to prevent and correct discrimination without the use of formal, written employee policies. For example, you may inform employees that discrimination is prohibited and encourage employees to report discrimination to you promptly.
Even so, you may decide to develop written policies. Developing and distributing clear employee policies, updating the policies as needed, and consistently enforcing the policies may:
- Help employees understand and comply with your rules and expectations;
- Help prevent problems that may result in discrimination complaints; and
- Limit your liability should a complaint arise.
Even if you decide not to have written policies, the following information may be helpful when developing your workplace rules and expectations.
What type of policy are you creating?
General Non-Discrimination Policy Tips
- State that discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, disability, age (40 or older) or genetic information (including family medical history) is illegal and will not be tolerated. Provide definitions and examples of prohibited conduct, as needed.*
- State that you will provide reasonable accommodations (changes to the way things are normally done at work) to applicants and employees who need them for medical or religious reasons, as required by law.*
- Explain how employees can report discrimination.
- If possible, designate more than one person to receive and respond to discrimination complaints or questions.
- Consider permitting employees to report discrimination to any manager.
- State that employees will not be punished for reporting discrimination, participating in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit or opposing discrimination.
- State that you will protect the confidentiality of employees who report discrimination or participate in a discrimination investigation, to the greatest possible extent.
- Require managers and other employees with human resources responsibilities to respond appropriately to discrimination or to report it to individuals who are authorized to respond.
- Provide for prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of complaints.
- Provide for prompt and effective corrective and preventative action when necessary.
- Consider requiring that employees who file internal complaints be notified about the status of their complaint, the results of the investigation and any corrective and preventative action taken.
- Describe the consequences of violating the non-discrimination policy.
* Federal, state and local laws may prohibit additional types of discrimination and/or require you to provide reasonable accommodations for other reasons. Federal, state and local government websites may have additional information about these laws.
Race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features). Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion.
Race/color discrimination also can involve treating someone unfavorably because the person is married to (or associated with) a person of a certain race or color.
Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same race or color.
Race/Color Discrimination & Work Situations
The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
Race/Color Discrimination & Harassment
It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s race or color.
Harassment can include, for example, racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race or color, or the display of racially-offensive symbols. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Race/Color Discrimination & Employment Policies/Practices
An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of race or color, can be illegal if it has a negative impact on the employment of people of a particular race or color and is not job-related and necessary to the operation of the business. For example, a “no-beard” employment policy that applies to all workers without regard to race may still be unlawful if it is not job-related and has a negative impact on the employment of African-American men (who have a predisposition to a skin condition that causes severe shaving bumps).
Sex discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of that person’s sex.
Discrimination against an individual because of gender identity, including transgender status, or because of sexual orientation is discrimination because of sex in violation of Title VII. For more information about LGBT-related sex discrimination claims, for more information see http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/enforcement_protections_lgbt_workers.cfm.
Sex Discrimination & Work Situations
The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
Sex Discrimination Harassment
It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Sex Discrimination & Employment Policies/Practices
An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of sex, can be illegal if it has a negative impact on the employment of people of a certain sex and is not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business.
Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.
Religious discrimination can also involve treating someone differently because that person is married to (or associated with) an individual of a particular religion.
Religious Discrimination & Work Situations
The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
Religious Discrimination & Harassment
It is illegal to harass a person because of his or her religion.
Harassment can include, for example, offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Religious Discrimination and Segregation
Title VII also prohibits workplace or job segregation based on religion (including religious garb and grooming practices), such as assigning an employee to a non-customer contact position because of actual or feared customer preference.
Religious Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation
The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer’s business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.
Examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.
Religious Accommodation/Dress & Grooming Policies
Unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer’s operation of its business, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. This applies not only to schedule changes or leave for religious observances, but also to such things as dress or grooming practices that an employee has for religious reasons. These might include, for example, wearing particular head coverings or other religious dress (such as a Jewish yarmulke or a Muslim headscarf), or wearing certain hairstyles or facial hair (such as Rastafarian dreadlocks or Sikh uncut hair and beard). It also includes an employee’s observance of a religious prohibition against wearing certain garments (such as pants or miniskirts).
When an employee or applicant needs a dress or grooming accommodation for religious reasons, he should notify the employer that he needs such an accommodation for religious reasons. If the employer reasonably needs more information, the employer and the employee should engage in an interactive process to discuss the request. If it would not pose an undue hardship, the employer must grant the accommodation.
Religious Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation & Undue Hardship
An employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.
Religious Discrimination And Employment Policies/Practices
An employee cannot be forced to participate (or not participate) in a religious activity as a condition of employment.
Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.
Pregnancy Discrimination & Work Situations
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.
Pregnancy Discrimination & Temporary Disability
If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, the employer may have to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to pregnant employees if it does so for other temporarily disabled employees.
Additionally, impairments resulting from pregnancy (for example, gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, a condition characterized by pregnancy-induced hypertension and protein in the urine) may be disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An employer may have to provide a reasonable accommodation (such as leave or modifications that enable an employee to perform her job) for a disability related to pregnancy, absent undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense). The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 makes it much easier to show that a medical condition is a covered disability. For more information about the ADA, see http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm. For information about the ADA Amendments Act, see http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability_regulations.cfm.
Pregnancy Discrimination & Harassment
It is unlawful to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Pregnancy, Maternity & Parental Leave
Under the PDA, an employer that allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay, must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy to do the same.
An employer may not single out pregnancy-related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee’s ability to work. However, if an employer requires its employees to submit a doctor’s statement concerning their ability to work before granting leave or paying sick benefits, the employer may require employees affected by pregnancy-related conditions to submit such statements.
Further, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, a new parent (including foster and adoptive parents) may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave (unpaid or paid if the employee has earned or accrued it) that may be used for care of the new child. To be eligible, the employee must have worked for the employer for 12 months prior to taking the leave and the employer must have a specified number of employees. See http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.htm.
Pregnancy & Workplace Laws
Pregnant employees may have additional rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. Nursing mothers may also have the right to express milk in the workplace under a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. See http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs73.htm.
For more information about the Family Medical Leave Act or break time for nursing mothers, go to http://www.dol.gov/whd, or call 202-693-0051 or 1-866-487-9243 (voice), 202-693-7755 (TTY).
National Origin Discrimination
National origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).
National origin discrimination also can involve treating people unfavorably because they are married to (or associated with) a person of a certain national origin.
Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same national origin.
National Origin Discrimination & Work Situations
National Origin & Harassment
It is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her national origin. Harassment can include, for example, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, accent or ethnicity. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
National Origin & Employment Policies/Practices
The law makes it illegal for an employer or other covered entity to use an employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of national origin, if it has a negative impact on people of a certain national origin and is not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business.
An employer can only require an employee to speak fluent English if fluency in English is necessary to perform the job effectively. An “English-only rule”, which requires employees to speak only English on the job, is only allowed if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.
An employer may not base an employment decision on an employee’s foreign accent, unless the accent seriously interferes with the employee’s job performance.
Citizenship Discrimination & Workplace Laws
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate with respect to hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, based upon an individual’s citizenship or immigration status. The law prohibits employers from hiring only U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents unless required to do so by law, regulation or government contract. Employers may not refuse to accept lawful documentation that establishes the employment eligibility of an employee, or demand additional documentation beyond what is legally required, when verifying employment eligibility (i.e., completing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Form I-9), based on the employee’s national origin or citizenship status. It is the employee’s choice which of the acceptable Form I-9 documents to show to verify employment eligibility.
IRCA also prohibits retaliation against individuals for asserting their rights under the Act, or for filing a charge or assisting in an investigation or proceeding under IRCA.
IRCA’s nondiscrimination requirements are enforced by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER). IER may be reached at:
1-800-255-7688 (voice for employees/applicants),
1-800-237-2515 (TTY for employees/applicants),
1-800-255-8155 (voice for employers), or
1-800-362-2735 (TTY for employers), or
Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because she has a disability. Learn more about the Act at ADA at 25.
Disability discrimination also occurs when a covered employer or other entity treats an applicant or employee less favorably because she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is controlled or in remission) or because she is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if she does not have such an impairment).
The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer (“undue hardship”).
The law also protects people from discrimination based on their relationship with a person with a disability (even if they do not themselves have a disability). For example, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee because her husband has a disability.
Note: Federal employees and applicants are covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, instead of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The protections are mostly the same.
Disability Discrimination & Work Situations
Disability Discrimination & Harassment
It is illegal to harass an applicant or employee because he has a disability, had a disability in the past, or is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).
Harassment can include, for example, offensive remarks about a person’s disability. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
Disability Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation
The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment (or in the way things are usually done) to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.
Reasonable accommodation might include, for example, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who is blind or hearing impaired.
While the federal anti-discrimination laws don’t require an employer to accommodate an employee who must care for a disabled family member, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may require an employer to take such steps. The Department of Labor enforces the FMLA. For more information, call: 1-866-487-9243.
Disability Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation & Undue Hardship
An employer doesn’t have to provide an accommodation if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer.
Undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, in light of the employer’s size, financial resources, and the needs of the business. An employer may not refuse to provide an accommodation just because it involves some cost. An employer does not have to provide the exact accommodation the employee or job applicant wants. If more than one accommodation works, the employer may choose which one to provide.
Definition Of Disability
Not everyone with a medical condition is protected by the law. In order to be protected, a person must be qualified for the job and have a disability as defined by the law.
A person can show that he or she has a disability in one of three ways:
- A person may be disabled if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning).
- A person may be disabled if he or she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission).
- A person may be disabled if he is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).
Disability & Medical Exams During Employment Application & Interview Stage
The law places strict limits on employers when it comes to asking job applicants to answer medical questions, take a medical exam, or identify a disability.
For example, an employer may not ask a job applicant to answer medical questions or take a medical exam before extending a job offer. An employer also may not ask job applicants if they have a disability (or about the nature of an obvious disability). An employer may ask job applicants whether they can perform the job and how they would perform the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Disability & Medical Exams After A Job Offer For Employment
After a job is offered to an applicant, the law allows an employer to condition the job offer on the applicant answering certain medical questions or successfully passing a medical exam, but only if all new employees in the same type of job have to answer the questions or take the exam.
Disability & Medical Exams For Persons Who Have Started Working As Employees
Once a person is hired and has started work, an employer generally can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if the employer needs medical documentation to support an employee’s request for an accommodation or if the employer believes that an employee is not able to perform a job successfully or safely because of a medical condition.
The law also requires that employers keep all medical records and information confidential and in separate medical files.
In addition to a variety of formal guidance documents, EEOC has developed a wide range of fact sheets, question & answer documents, and other publications to help employees and employers understand the complex issues surrounding disability discrimination.
- Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Recruiting, Hiring, Retaining, and Promoting People with Disabilities
- Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability
- Job Applicants and the ADA
- Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the ADA: A Guide for Veterans
- Questions and Answers: Promoting Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Workforce
- The Family and Medical Leave Act, the ADA, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The ADA: A Primer for Small Business
- Your Responsibilities as an Employer
- Small Employers and Reasonable Accommodation
- Work At Home/Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation
- Applying Performance And Conduct Standards To Employees With Disabilities
- Obtaining and Using Employee Medical Information as Part of Emergency Evacuation Procedures
- The Mental Health Provider’s Role in a Client’s Request for a Reasonable Accommodation at Work
- Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
- Reasonable Accommodations for Attorneys with Disabilities
- How to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Restaurants and Other Food Service Employers
- Final Report on Best Practices For the Employment of People with Disabilities In State Government
- Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights
- ABCs of Schedule A Documents
The ADA Amendments Act
Veterans with Disabilities
- EEOC Efforts for Veterans with Disabilities
- Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Veterans
- Veterans and the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Employers
- Hiring Veterans with Disabilities in the Federal Government
The Questions and Answers Series
- EEO Laws for Employees Affected by the Zika Virus
- Health Care Workers and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Blindness and Vision Impairments in the Workplace and the ADA
- The Americans with Disabilities Act’s Association Provision
- Diabetes in the Workplace and the ADA
- Epilepsy in the Workplace and the ADA
- Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in the Workplace and the ADA
- Cancer in the Workplace and the ADA
- The Application of Title VII and the ADA to Applicants or Employees Who Experience Domestic or Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking
Mediation and the ADA
- Questions and Answers for Mediation Providers: Mediation and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Questions and Answers for Parties to Mediation: Mediation and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
HIV/AIDS and the ADA
- Living with HIV Infection Your Legal Rights in the Workplace Under the ADA
- Helping Patients with HIV Infection Who Need Accommodations at Work
The following documents were developed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
What You Should Know About EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers
- Recent EEOC Litigation Regarding Title VII & LGBT-Related Discrimination
- Examples of Court Decisions Supporting Coverage of LGBT-Related Discrimination Under Title VII
- Federal Sector Cases Involving LGBT Individuals
- Addressing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in Federal Civilian Employment: A Guide to Employment Rights, Protections, and Responsibilities
- Bathroom/Facility Access and Transgender Employees
- Examples of LGBT-Related Sex Discrimination Claims
- Applicable Federal Law
- Charge Data
- Conciliation and Litigation
- Federal Sector Enforcement
- Training and Outreach
- Other Laws
EEOC interprets and enforces Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. These protections apply regardless of any contrary state or local laws.
Through investigation, conciliation, and litigation of charges by individuals against private sector employers, as well as hearings and appeals for federal sector workers, the Commission has taken the position that existing sex discrimination provisions in Title VII protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) applicants and employees against employment bias. The Commission has obtained approximately $6.4 million in monetary relief for individuals, as well as numerous employer policy changes, in voluntary resolutions of LGBT discrimination charges under Title VII since data collection began in 2013. A growing number of court decisions have endorsed the Commission’s interpretation of Title VII.
The information provided below highlights what you should know about EEOC’s outreach and enforcement in this area.
Some examples of LGBT-related claims that EEOC views as unlawful sex discrimination include:
- Failing to hire an applicant because she is a transgender woman.
- Firing an employee because he is planning or has made a gender transition.
- Denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity.
- Harassing an employee because of a gender transition, such as by intentionally and persistently failing to use the name and gender pronoun that correspond to the gender identity with which the employee identifies, and which the employee has communicated to management and employees.
- Denying an employee a promotion because he is gay or straight.
- Discriminating in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, such as providing a lower salary to an employee because of sexual orientation, or denying spousal health insurance benefits to a female employee because her legal spouse is a woman, while providing spousal health insurance to a male employee whose legal spouse is a woman.
- Harassing an employee because of his or her sexual orientation, for example, by derogatory terms, sexually oriented comments, or disparaging remarks for associating with a person of the same or opposite sex.
- Discriminating against or harassing an employee because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, in combination with another unlawful reason, for example, on the basis of transgender status and race, or sexual orientation and disability.
See How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination for information about filing a Title VII charge of sex discrimination in employment related to gender identity or sexual orientation bias. There is a different complaint process for federal employees.
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate in employment against a job applicant, employee, or former employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. These federal laws also prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who oppose discriminatory employment practices – for example, by reporting incidents of sexual harassment to their supervisor or human resources department – or against those who participate in an employment discrimination proceeding – for example by filing an EEOC charge, cooperating with an EEOC investigation, or participating in an employment discrimination lawsuit.
While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity in its list of protected bases, the Commission, consistent with Supreme Court case law holding that employment actions motivated by gender stereotyping are unlawful sex discrimination and other court decisions, interprets the statute’s sex discrimination provision as prohibiting discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Over the past several years the Commission has set forth its position in several published decisions involving federal employment. These decisions explain the legal basis for concluding that LGBT-related discrimination constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII, and give examples of what would be considered unlawful. In so ruling, the Commission has not recognized any new protected characteristics under Title VII. Rather, it has applied existing Title VII precedents to sex discrimination claims raised by LGBT individuals. The Commission has reiterated these positions through recent amicus curiaebriefs and litigation against private companies.
Sex Discrimination – Transgender Status
In Macy v. Dep’t of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821, 2012 WL 1435995 (April 20, 2012), the Commission held that intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person’s gender identity is, by definition, discrimination based on sex and therefore violates Title VII.
The Macy decision explains that allegations of gender identity/transgender discrimination necessarily involve sex discrimination. Such cases can be viewed as sex discrimination based on non-conformance with gender norms and stereotypes under the Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, and based on a plain reading of the statute’s “because of . . . sex” language.
Applying Macy, the Commission has also held that an employer’s restrictions on a transgender woman’s ability to use a common female restroom facility constitutes disparate treatment, Lusardi v. Dep’t of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133395, 2015 WL 1607756 (Mar. 27, 2015), that intentional misuse of a transgender employee’s new name and pronoun may constitute sex-based discrimination and/or harassment, Jameson v. U.S. Postal Service, EEOC Appeal No. 0120130992, 2013 WL 2368729 (May 21, 2013), and that an employer’s failure to revise its records pursuant to changes in gender identity stated a valid Title VII sex discrimination claim, Complainant v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133123, 2014 WL 1653484 (Apr. 16, 2014).
Sex Discrimination – Sexual Orientation
In Baldwin v. Dep’t of Transportation, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080 (July 15, 2015), the Commission held that a claim of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily states a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII.
The Baldwin decision explains that allegations of sexual orientation discrimination necessarily involve sex-based considerations. First, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily involves treating an employee differently because of his or her sex. For example, a lesbian employee disciplined for displaying a picture of her female spouse can allege that an employer took a different action against her based on her sex where the employer did not discipline a male employee for displaying a picture of his female spouse. Sexual orientation discrimination is also sex discrimination because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex. That is, an employee alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is alleging that the employer took the employee’s sex into account by treating him or her differently for associating with a person of the same sex. Finally, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is sex discrimination because it necessarily involves discrimination based on gender stereotypes, including employer beliefs about the person to whom the employee should be attracted.
In FY 2015, EEOC received a total of 1,412 charges that included allegations of sex discrimination related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity/transgender status. This represents an increase of approximately 28% over the total LGBT charges filed in FY 2014 (1,100). EEOC resolved a total of 1,135 LGBT charges in FY 2015, including through voluntary agreements providing approximately $3.3 million in monetary relief for workers and achieving changes in employer policies so that discrimination would not recur. This reflects increases of 34% in the number of resolutions over FY 2014 (847) and 51% in the amount of monetary relief over FY 2014 ($2.19 million).
See our table of LGBT-based Sex Discrimination charges filed with EEOC.
When the Commission finds reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred, it seeks to resolve the matter voluntarily through informal means of conciliation, conference, and persuasion. If the Commission is unable to secure a voluntary resolution, it has authority to file suit in federal court. In several cases, the Commission has filed LGBT-related lawsuits under Title VII challenging alleged sex discrimination. Read about examples of pending and resolved EEOC litigation involving Title VII sex discrimination claims brought on behalf of LGBT individuals, as well as EEOC amicus briefs filed in suits brought by private individuals raising these issues.
In the federal sector, EEOC has implemented its priority for covering LGBT individuals in a variety of ways:
- Tracking gender identity and sexual orientation appeals in the federal sector
- Issuing 20 federal sector decisions in FY 2015, including finding that gender identity-related complaints and sexual orientation discrimination-related complaints can be brought under Title VII through the federal sector EEO complaint process. For example, in Larita G. v. U.S. Postal Service, EEOC Appeal No. 0120142154 (Nov. 18, 2015), EEOC reversed the Agency’s dismissal of a hostile work environment claim on the basis of sexual orientation because such an allegation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII.
- Establishing an LGBT workgroup to further EEOC’s adjudicatory and oversight responsibilities
- Issuing guidance, including instructions for processing complaints of discrimination by LGBT federal employees and applicants available on EEOC’s public web site
- Providing technical assistance to federal agencies in the development of gender transition policies and plans
- Providing LGBT related outreach to federal agencies through briefings, presentations, and case law updates
EEOC is addressing LGBT legal developments in numerous outreach and training presentations to the public. During FY 2015, field office staff conducted more than700 events and reached over 43,000 attendees where LGBT sex-discrimination issues were among the topics discussed. In the federal sector during FY 2015, there were approximately 53 presentations delivered to over 4,400 federal sector audience members. These events reached a wide variety of audiences, including employee advocacy groups, small employer groups, students and staff at colleges and universities, staff and managers at federal agencies and human resource professionals. To assist in this outreach, EEOC is distributing a brochure, Preventing Employment Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender Employees.
The Commission has issued various technical assistance publications on LGBT issues, including:
- Fact Sheet on Recent EEOC Litigation Regarding Title VII & LGBT-Related Discrimination, www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/litigation/selected/lgbt_facts.cfm
- Examples of Court Decisions Supporting Coverage of LGBT-Related Discrimination Under Title VII, www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/lgbt_examples_decisions.cfm
- Federal Sector Cases Involving LGBT Individuals, www.eeoc.gov/federal/reports/lgbt_cases.cfm
- Brochure on Preventing Employment Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender Employees, http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/brochure-gender_stereotyping.cfm.
- OPM-EEOC-OSC-MSPB Guide: Addressing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in Federal Civilian Employment, www.opm.gov/LGBTGuide
- Bathroom/Facility Access and Transgender Employees, www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-bathroom-access-transgender.cfm
Useful resources from other agencies include:
- OPM Guidance on Employment of Transgender Individuals www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/diversity-and-inclusion/reference-materials/gender-identity-guidance/
- U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3795.pdf
Be aware of other laws that also may apply:
- Federal contractors and sub-contractors are covered by a separate, explicit prohibition on transgender or sexual orientation discrimination in employment pursuant to Executive Order 13672 and implementing regulations issued and enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance. For more information, see Frequently Asked Questions on E.O. 13672 Final Rule, www.dol.gov/ofccp/LGBT/LGBT_FAQs.html
- State or local fair employment laws may explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Contact information for state and local fair employment agencies can be found on the page for EEOC’s field office covering that state or locality. On the other hand, if a state or local law permits or does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the EEOC will still enforce Title VII’s discrimination prohibitions against covered employers in that jurisdiction because contrary state law is not a defense under Title VII. Applicants and employees in those jurisdictions should contact the EEOC directly if they believe they have been subjected to sex discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Note that the U.S. Department of Justice’s position regarding Title VII’s coverage of LGBT-related discrimination differs from that of the EEOC. See https://www.justice.gov/ag/page/file/1006981/download.
Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. It does not protect workers under the age of 40, although some states have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination. It is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older.
Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are both over 40.
Age Discrimination & Work Situations
The law prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
Age Discrimination & Harassment
It is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her age.
Harassment can include, for example, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s age. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
Age Discrimination & Employment Policies/Practices
An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of age, can be illegal if it has a negative impact on applicants or employees age 40 or older and is not based on a reasonable factor other than age (RFOA).
Genetic Information Discrimination
Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which prohibits genetic information discrimination in employment, took effect on November 21, 2009.
Under Title II of GINA, it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. Title II of GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts employers and other entities covered by Title II (employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management training and apprenticeship programs – referred to as “covered entities”) from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information, and strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information.
The EEOC enforces Title II of GINA (dealing with genetic discrimination in employment). The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury have responsibility for issuing regulations for Title I of GINA, which addresses the use of genetic information in health insurance.
Definition of “Genetic Information”
Genetic information includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in an individual’s family members (i.e. family medical history). Family medical history is included in the definition of genetic information because it is often used to determine whether someone has an increased risk of getting a disease, disorder, or condition in the future. Genetic information also includes an individual’s request for, or receipt of, genetic services, or the participation in clinical research that includes genetic services by the individual or a family member of the individual, and the genetic information of a fetus carried by an individual or by a pregnant woman who is a family member of the individual and the genetic information of any embryo legally held by the individual or family member using an assisted reproductive technology.
Discrimination Because of Genetic Information
The law forbids discrimination on the basis of genetic information when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, or any other term or condition of employment. An employer may never use genetic information to make an employment decision because genetic information is not relevant to an individual’s current ability to work.
Harassment Because of Genetic Information
Under GINA, it is also illegal to harass a person because of his or her genetic information. Harassment can include, for example, making offensive or derogatory remarks about an applicant or employee’s genetic information, or about the genetic information of a relative of the applicant or employee. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area of the workplace, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee, such as a client or customer.
Under GINA, it is illegal to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise “retaliate” against an applicant or employee for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding (such as a discrimination investigation or lawsuit), or otherwise opposing discrimination.
Rules Against Acquiring Genetic Information
It will usually be unlawful for a covered entity to get genetic information. There are six narrow exceptions to this prohibition:
- Inadvertent acquisitions of genetic information do not violate GINA, such as in situations where a manager or supervisor overhears someone talking about a family member’s illness.
- Genetic information (such as family medical history) may be obtained as part of health or genetic services, including wellness programs, offered by the employer on a voluntary basis, if certain specific requirements are met.
- Family medical history may be acquired as part of the certification process for FMLA leave (or leave under similar state or local laws or pursuant to an employer policy), where an employee is asking for leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
- Genetic information may be acquired through commercially and publicly available documents like newspapers, as long as the employer is not searching those sources with the intent of finding genetic information or accessing sources from which they are likely to acquire genetic information (such as websites and on-line discussion groups that focus on issues such as genetic testing of individuals and genetic discrimination).
- Genetic information may be acquired through a genetic monitoring program that monitors the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace where the monitoring is required by law or, under carefully defined conditions, where the program is voluntary.
- Acquisition of genetic information of employees by employers who engage in DNA testing for law enforcement purposes as a forensic lab or for purposes of human remains identification is permitted, but the genetic information may only be used for analysis of DNA markers for quality control to detect sample contamination.
Confidentiality of Genetic Information
It is also unlawful for a covered entity to disclose genetic information about applicants, employees or members. Covered entities must keep genetic information confidential and in a separate medical file. (Genetic information may be kept in the same file as other medical information in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.) There are limited exceptions to this non-disclosure rule, such as exceptions that provide for the disclosure of relevant genetic information to government officials investigating compliance with Title II of GINA and for disclosures made pursuant to a court order.
Harassment Policy Tips
- State that harassment based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, disability, age (40 or older) or genetic information (including family medical history) is illegal and will not be tolerated. Provide definitions and examples of prohibited conduct, as needed.*
- Explain how employees can report harassment.
- If possible, designate at least one person outside an employee’s chain of command who can receive harassment complaints.
- Consider permitting employees to report harassment to any manager.
- State that you will protect the confidentiality of employees who report harassment or participate in a harassment investigation, to the greatest possible extent.
- State that employees will not be punished for reporting harassment or participating in a harassment investigation or lawsuit.
- Require managers and other employees with human resources responsibilities to respond appropriately to harassment or to report it to individuals who are authorized to respond.
- Provide for prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of harassment complaints.
- Provide for prompt and effective corrective and preventative action when necessary.
- Consider requiring that employees who file internal complaints be notified about the status of their complaint, the results of the investigation and any corrective and preventative action taken.
- Describe the consequences of violating the harassment policy.
* Federal, state and local laws may prohibit additional types of harassment. Federal, state and local government websites may have additional information about these laws.
Enforcement Guidance on Vicarious Employer Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors
In Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. 2257 (1998), and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 118 S. Ct. 2275 (1998), the Supreme Court made clear that employers are subject to vicarious liability for unlawful harassment by supervisors. The standard of liability set forth in these decisions is premised on two principles: 1) an employer is responsible for the acts of its supervisors, and 2) employers should be encouraged to prevent harassment and employees should be encouraged to avoid or limit the harm from harassment. In order to accommodate these principles, the Court held that an employer is always liable for a supervisor’s harassment if it culminates in a tangible employment action. However, if it does not, the employer may be able to avoid liability or limit damages by establishing an affirmative defense that includes two necessary elements:
- the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing behavior, and
- the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.
While the Faragher and Ellerth decisions addressed sexual harassment, the Court’s analysis drew upon standards set forth in cases involving harassment on other protected bases. Moreover, the Commission has always taken the position that the same basic standards apply to all types of prohibited harassment.1 Thus, the standard of liability set forth in the decisions applies to all forms of unlawful harassment. (See section II, below.)
Harassment remains a pervasive problem in American workplaces. The number of harassment charges filed with the EEOC and state fair employment practices agencies has risen significantly in recent years. For example, the number of sexual harassment charges has increased from 6,883 in fiscal year 1991 to 15,618 in fiscal year 1998. The number of racial harassment charges rose from 4,910 to 9,908 charges in the same time period.
While the anti-discrimination statutes seek to remedy discrimination, their primary purpose is to prevent violations. The Supreme Court, in Faragher and Ellerth, relied on Commission guidance which has long advised employers to take all necessary steps to prevent harassment.2 The new affirmative defense gives credit for such preventive efforts by an employer, thereby “implement[ing] clear statutory policy and complement[ing] the Government’s Title VII enforcement efforts.”3
The question of liability arises only after there is a determination that unlawful harassment occurred. Harassment does not violate federal law unless it involves discriminatory treatment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age of 40 or older, disability, or protected activity under the anti-discrimination statutes. Furthermore, the anti-discrimination statutes are not a “general civility code.”4 Thus federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not “extremely serious.”5 Rather, the conduct must be “so objectively offensive as to alter the ‘conditions’ of the victim’s employment.”6 The conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminated in a tangible employment action or was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.7 Existing Commission guidance on the standards for determining whether challenged conduct rises to the level of unlawful harassment remains in effect.
This document supersedes previous Commission guidance on the issue of vicarious liability for harassment by supervisors.8 The Commission’s long-standing guidance on employer liability for harassment by co-workers remains in effect – – an employer is liable if it knew or should have known of the misconduct, unless it can show that it took immediate and appropriate corrective action.9 The standard is the same in the case of non-employees, but the employer’s control over such individuals’ misconduct is considered.10
II. The Vicarious Liability Rule Applies to Unlawful Harassment on All Covered Bases
The rule in Ellerth and Faragher regarding vicarious liability applies to harassment by supervisors based on race, color, sex (whether or not of a sexual nature11), religion, national origin, protected activity,12 age, or disability.13 Thus, employers should establish anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures covering all forms of unlawful harassment.14
III. Who Qualifies as a Supervisor?
A. Harasser in Supervisory Chain of Command
An employer is subject to vicarious liability for unlawful harassment if the harassment was committed by “a supervisor with immediate (or successively higher) authority over the employee.”15 Thus, it is critical to determine whether the person who engaged in unlawful harassment had supervisory authority over the complainant.
The federal employment discrimination statutes do not contain or define the term “supervisor.”16 The statutes make employers liable for the discriminatory acts of their “agents,”17 and supervisors are agents of their employers. However, agency principles “may not be transferable in all their particulars” to the federal employment discrimination statutes.18 The determination of whether an individual has sufficient authority to qualify as a “supervisor” for purposes of vicarious liability cannot be resolved by a purely mechanical application of agency law.19 Rather, the purposes of the anti-discrimination statutes and the reasoning of the Supreme Court decisions on harassment must be considered.
The Supreme Court, in Faragher and Ellerth, reasoned that vicarious liability for supervisor harassment is appropriate because supervisors are aided in such misconduct by the authority that the employers delegated to them.20 Therefore, that authority must be of a sufficient magnitude so as to assist the harasser explicitly or implicitly in carrying out the harassment. The determination as to whether a harasser had such authority is based on his or her job function rather than job title (e.g., “team leader”) and must be based on the specific facts.
An individual qualifies as an employee’s “supervisor” if:
- the individual has authority to undertake or recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee; or
- the individual has authority to direct the employee’s daily work activities.
1. Authority to Undertake or Recommend Tangible Employment Actions
An individual qualifies as an employee’s “supervisor” if he or she is authorized to undertake tangible employment decisions affecting the employee. “Tangible employment decisions” are decisions that significantly change another employee’s employment status. (For a detailed explanation of what constitutes a tangible employment action, see subsection IV(B), below.) Such actions include, but are not limited to, hiring, firing, promoting, demoting, and reassigning the employee. As the Supreme Court stated,“[t]angible employment actions fall within the special province of the supervisor.”21
An individual whose job responsibilities include the authority to recommend tangible job decisions affecting an employee qualifies as his or her supervisor even if the individual does not have the final say. As the Supreme Court recognized in Ellerth, a tangible employment decision “may be subject to review by higher level supervisors.”22 As long as the individual’s recommendation is given substantial weight by the final decision maker(s), that individual meets the definition of supervisor.
2. Authority to Direct Employee’s Daily Work Activities
An individual who is authorized to direct another employee’s day-to-day work activities qualifies as his or her supervisor even if that individual does not have the authority to undertake or recommend tangible job decisions. Such an individual’s ability to commit harassment is enhanced by his or her authority to increase the employee’s workload or assign undesirable tasks, and hence it is appropriate to consider such a person a “supervisor” when determining whether the employer is vicariously liable.
In Faragher, one of the harassers was authorized to hire, supervise, counsel, and discipline lifeguards, while the other harasser was responsible for making the lifeguards’ daily work assignments and supervising their work and fitness training.23There was no question that the Court viewed them both as “supervisors,” even though one of them apparently lacked authority regarding tangible job decisions.24
An individual who is temporarily authorized to direct another employee’s daily work activities qualifies as his or her “supervisor” during that time period. Accordingly, the employer would be subject to vicarious liability if that individual commits unlawful harassment of a subordinate while serving as his or her supervisor.
On the other hand, someone who merely relays other officials’ instructions regarding work assignments and reports back to those officials does not have true supervisory authority. Furthermore, someone who directs only a limited number of tasks or assignments would not qualify as a “supervisor.” For example, an individual whose delegated authority is confined to coordinating a work project of limited scope is not a “supervisor.”
B. Harasser Outside Supervisory Chain of Command
In some circumstances, an employer may be subject to vicarious liability for harassment by a supervisor who does not have actual authority over the employee. Such a result is appropriate if the employee reasonably believed that the harasser had such power.25 The employee might have such a belief because, for example, the chains of command are unclear. Alternatively, the employee might reasonably believe that a harasser with broad delegated powers has the ability to significantly influence employment decisions affecting him or her even if the harasser is outside the employee’s chain of command.
If the harasser had no actual supervisory power over the employee, and the employee did not reasonably believe that the harasser had such authority, then the standard of liability for co-worker harassment applies.
IV. Harassment by Supervisor That Results in a Tangible Employment Action
A. Standard of Liability
An employer is always liable for harassment by a supervisor on a prohibited basis that culminates in a tangible employment action. No affirmative defense is available in such cases.26 The Supreme Court recognized that this result is appropriate because an employer acts through its supervisors, and a supervisor’s undertaking of a tangible employment action constitutes an act of the employer.27
B. Definition of “Tangible Employment Action”
1. A tangible employment action is the means by which the supervisor brings the official power of the enterprise to bear on subordinates, as demonstrated by the following :
- it requires an official act of the enterprise;
- it usually is documented in official company records;
- it may be subject to review by higher level supervisors; and
- it often requires the formal approval of the enterprise and use of its internal processes.
2. A tangible employment action usually inflicts direct economic harm.
3. A tangible employment action, in most instances, can only be caused by a supervisor or other person acting with the authority of the company.
Examples of tangible employment actions include:30
- hiring and firing;
- promotion and failure to promote;
- undesirable reassignment;
- a decision causing a significant change in benefits;
- compensation decisions; and
- work assignment.
Any employment action qualifies as “tangible” if it results in a significant change in employment status. For example, significantly changing an individual’s duties in his or her existing job constitutes a tangible employment action regardless of whether the individual retains the same salary and benefits.32 Similarly, altering an individual’s duties in a way that blocks his or her opportunity for promotion or salary increases also constitutes a tangible employment action.33
On the other hand, an employment action does not reach the threshold of “tangible” if it results in only an insignificant change in the complainant’s employment status. For example, altering an individual’s job title does not qualify as a tangible employment action if there is no change in salary, benefits, duties, or prestige, and the only effect is a bruised ego.34 However, if there is a significant change in the status of the position because the new title is less prestigious and thereby effectively constitutes a demotion, a tangible employment action would be found.35
If a supervisor undertakes or recommends a tangible job action based on a subordinate’s response to unwelcome sexual demands, the employer is liable and cannot raise the affirmative defense. The result is the same whether the employee rejects the demands and is subjected to an adverse tangible employment action or submits to the demands and consequently obtains a tangible job benefit.36 Such harassment previously would have been characterized as “quid pro quo.” It would be a perverse result if the employer is foreclosed from raising the affirmative defense if its supervisor denies a tangible job benefit based on an employee’s rejection of unwelcome sexual demands, but can raise the defense if its supervisor grants a tangible job benefit based on submission to such demands. The Commission rejects such an analysis. In both those situations the supervisor undertakes a tangible employment action on a discriminatory basis. The Supreme Court stated that there must be a significant change in employment status; it did not require that the change be adverse in order to qualify as tangible.37
If a challenged employment action is not “tangible,” it may still be considered, along with other evidence, as part of a hostile environment claim that is subject to the affirmative defense. In Ellerth, the Court concluded that there was no tangible employment action because the supervisor never carried out his threats of job harm. Ellerth could still proceed with her claim of harassment, but the claim was properly “categorized as a hostile work environment claim which requires a showing of severe or pervasive conduct.” 118 S. Ct. at 2265.
C. Link Between Harassment and Tangible Employment Action
When harassment culminates in a tangible employment action, the employer cannot raise the affirmative defense. This sort of claim is analyzed like any other case in which a challenged employment action is alleged to be discriminatory. If the employer produces evidence of a non-discriminatory explanation for the tangible employment action, a determination must be made whether that explanation is a pretext designed to hide a discriminatory motive.
For example, if an employee alleged that she was demoted because she refused her supervisor’s sexual advances, a determination would have to be made whether the demotion was because of her response to the advances, and hence because of her sex. Similarly, if an employee alleges that he was discharged after being subjected to severe or pervasive harassment by his supervisor based on his national origin, a determination would have to be made whether the discharge was because of the employee’s national origin.
A strong inference of discrimination will arise whenever a harassing supervisor undertakes or has significant input into a tangible employment action affecting the victim,38 because it can be “assume[d] that the harasser…could not act as an objective, non-discriminatory decision maker with respect to the plaintiff.”39 However, if the employer produces evidence of a non-discriminatory reason for the action, the employee will have to prove that the asserted reason was a pretext designed to hide the true discriminatory motive.
If it is determined that the tangible action was based on a discriminatory reason linked to the preceding harassment, relief could be sought for the entire pattern of misconduct culminating in the tangible employment action, and no affirmative defense is available.40 However, the harassment preceding the tangible employment action must be severe or pervasive in order to be actionable.31 If the tangible employment action was based on a non-discriminatory motive, then the employer would have an opportunity to raise the affirmative defense to a claim based on the preceding harassment.42
V. Harassment by Supervisor That Does Not Result in a Tangible Employment Action
A. Standard of Liability
When harassment by a supervisor creates an unlawful hostile environment but does not result in a tangible employment action, the employer can raise an affirmative defense to liability or damages, which it must prove by a preponderance of the evidence. The defense consists of two necessary elements:
- the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassment; and
- the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.
B. Effect of Standard
If an employer can prove that it discharged its duty of reasonable care and that the employee could have avoided all of the harm but unreasonably failed to do so, the employer will avoid all liability for unlawful harassment.43 For example, if an employee was subjected to a pattern of disability-based harassment that created an unlawful hostile environment, but the employee unreasonably failed to complain to management before she suffered emotional harm and the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct the harassment, then the employer will avoid all liability.
If an employer cannot prove that it discharged its duty of reasonable care and that the employee unreasonably failed to avoid the harm, the employer will be liable. For example, if unlawful harassment by a supervisor occurred and the employer failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent it, the employer will be liable even if the employee unreasonably failed to complain to management or even if the employer took prompt and appropriate corrective action when it gained notice.44
In most circumstances, if employers and employees discharge their respective duties of reasonable care, unlawful harassment will be prevented and there will be no reason to consider questions of liability. An effective complaint procedure “encourages employees to report harassing conduct before it becomes severe or pervasive,”45 and if an employee promptly utilizes that procedure, the employer can usually stop the harassment before actionable harm occurs.46
In some circumstances, however, unlawful harassment will occur and harm will result despite the exercise of requisite legal care by the employer and employee. For example, if an employee’s supervisor directed frequent, egregious racial epithets at him that caused emotional harm virtually from the outset, and the employee promptly complained, corrective action by the employer could prevent further harm but might not correct the actionable harm that the employee already had suffered.47 Alternatively, if an employee complained about harassment before it became severe or pervasive, remedial measures undertaken by the employer might fail to stop the harassment before it reaches an actionable level, even if those measures are reasonably calculated to halt it. In these circumstances, the employer will be liable because the defense requires proof that it exercised reasonable legal care and that the employee unreasonably failed to avoid the harm. While a notice-based negligence standard would absolve the employer of liability, the standard set forth in Ellerth and Faragher does not. As the Court explained, vicarious liability sets a “more stringent standard” for the employer than the “minimum standard” of negligence theory.48
While this result may seem harsh to a law abiding employer, it is consistent with liability standards under the anti-discrimination statutes which generally make employers responsible for the discriminatory acts of their supervisors.49 If, for example, a supervisor rejects a candidate for promotion because of national origin-based bias, the employer will be liable regardless of whether the employee complained to higher management and regardless of whether higher management had any knowledge about the supervisor’s motivation.50 Harassment is the only type of discrimination carried out by a supervisor for which an employer can avoid liability, and that limitation must be construed narrowly. The employer will be shielded from liability for harassment by a supervisor only if it proves that it exercised reasonable care in preventing and correcting the harassment and that the employee unreasonably failed to avoid all of the harm. If both parties exercise reasonable care, the defense will fail.
In some cases, an employer will be unable to avoid liability completely, but may be able to
establish the affirmative defense as a means to limit damages.51 The defense only limits damages where the employee reasonably could have avoided some but not all of the harm from the harassment. In the example above, in which the supervisor used frequent, egregious racial epithets, an unreasonable delay by the employee in complaining could limit damages but not eliminate liability entirely. This is because a reasonably prompt complaint would have reduced, but not eliminated, the actionable harm.52
C. First Prong of Affirmative Defense: Employer’s Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care
The first prong of the affirmative defense requires a showing by the employer that it undertook reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct harassment. Such reasonable care generally requires an employer to establish, disseminate, and enforce an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure and to take other reasonable steps to prevent and correct harassment. The steps described below are not mandatory requirements – – whether or not an employer can prove that it exercised reasonable care depends on the particular factual circumstances and, in some cases, the nature of the employer’s workforce. Small employers may be able to effectively prevent and correct harassment through informal means, while larger employers may have to institute more formal mechanisms.53
There are no “safe harbors” for employers based on the written content of policies and procedures. Even the best policy and complaint procedure will not alone satisfy the burden of proving reasonable care if, in the particular circumstances of a claim, the employer failed to implement its process effectively.54 If, for example, the employer has an adequate policy and complaint procedure and properly responded to an employee’s complaint of harassment, but management ignored previous complaints by other employees about the same harasser, then the employer has not exercised reasonable care in preventing the harassment.55 Similarly, if the employer has an adequate policy and complaint procedure but an official failed to carry out his or her responsibility to conduct an effective investigation of a harassment complaint, the employer has not discharged its duty to exercise reasonable care. Alternatively, lack of a formal policy and complaint procedure will not defeat the defense if the employer exercised sufficient care through other means.
1. Policy and Complaint Procedure
It generally is necessary for employers to establish, publicize, and enforce anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures. As the Supreme Court stated, “Title VII is designed to encourage the creation of anti-harassment policies and effective grievance mechanisms.” Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2270. While the Court noted that this “is not necessary in every instance as a matter of law,”56 failure to do so will make it difficult for an employer to prove that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct harassment.57 (See section V(C)(3), below, for discussion of preventive and corrective measures by small businesses.)
An employer should provide every employee with a copy of the policy and complaint procedure, and redistribute it periodically. The policy and complaint procedure should be written in a way that will be understood by all employees in the employer’s workforce. Other measures to ensure effective dissemination of the policy and complaint procedure include posting them in central locations and incorporating them into employee handbooks. If feasible, the employer should provide training to all employees to ensure that they understand their rights and responsibilities.
An anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure should contain, at a minimum, the following elements:
- A clear explanation of prohibited conduct;
- Assurance that employees who make complaints of harassment or provide information related to such complaints will be protected against retaliation;
- A clearly described complaint process that provides accessible avenues of complaint;
- Assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible;
- A complaint process that provides a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation; and
- Assurance that the employer will take immediate and appropriate corrective action when it determines that harassment has occurred.
The above elements are explained in the following subsections.
Prohibition Against Harassment
An employer’s policy should make clear that it will not tolerate harassment based on sex (with or without sexual conduct), race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, and protected activity (i.e., opposition to prohibited discrimination or participation in the statutory complaint process). This prohibition should cover harassment by anyone in the workplace – supervisors, co-workers or non-employees.58 Management should convey the seriousness of the prohibition. One way to do that is for the mandate to “come from the top,” i.e., from upper management.
The policy should encourage employees to report harassment before it becomes severe or pervasive. While isolated incidents of harassment generally do not violate federal law, a pattern of such incidents may be unlawful. Therefore, to discharge its duty of preventive care, the employer must make clear to employees that it will stop harassment before it rises to the level of a violation of federal law.
Protection Against Retaliation
An employer should make clear that it will not tolerate adverse treatment of employees because they report harassment or provide information related to such complaints. An anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure will not be effective without such an assurance.59
Management should undertake whatever measures are necessary to ensure that retaliation does not occur. For example, when management investigates a complaint of harassment, the official who interviews the parties and witnesses should remind these individuals about the prohibition against retaliation. Management also should scrutinize employment decisions affecting the complainant and witnesses during and after the investigation to ensure that such decisions are not based on retaliatory motives.
Effective Complaint Process
An employer’s harassment complaint procedure should be designed to encourage victims to come forward. To that end, it should clearly explain the process and ensure that there are no unreasonable obstacles to complaints. A complaint procedure should not be rigid, since that could defeat the goal of preventing and correcting harassment. When an employee complains to management about alleged harassment, the employer is obligated to investigate the allegation regardless of whether it conforms to a particular format or is made in writing.
The complaint procedure should provide accessible points of contact for the initial complaint.60 A complaint process is not effective if employees are always required to complain first to their supervisors about alleged harassment, since the supervisor may be a harasser.61 Moreover, reasonable care in preventing and correcting harassment requires an employer to instruct all supervisors to report complaints of harassment to appropriate officials.62
It is advisable for an employer to designate at least one official outside an employee’s chain of command to take complaints of harassment. For example, if the employer has an office of human resources, one or more officials in that office could be authorized to take complaints. Allowing an employee to bypass his or her chain of command provides additional assurance that the complaint will be handled in an impartial manner, since an employee who reports harassment by his or her supervisor may feel that officials within the chain of command will more readily believe the supervisor’s version of events.
It also is important for an employer’s anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure to contain information about the time frames for filing charges of unlawful harassment with the EEOC or state fair employment practice agencies and to explain that the deadline runs from the last date of unlawful harassment, not from the date that the complaint to the employer is resolved.63 While a prompt complaint process should make it feasible for an employee to delay deciding whether to file a charge until the complaint to the employer is resolved, he or she is not required to do so.64
An employer should make clear to employees that it will protect the confidentiality of harassment allegations to the extent possible. An employer cannot guarantee complete confidentiality, since it cannot conduct an effective investigation without revealing certain information to the alleged harasser and potential witnesses. However, information about the allegation of harassment should be shared only with those who need to know about it. Records relating to harassment complaints should be kept confidential on the same basis.65
A conflict between an employee’s desire for confidentiality and the employer’s duty to investigate may arise if an employee informs a supervisor about alleged harassment, but asks him or her to keep the matter confidential and take no action. Inaction by the supervisor in such circumstances could lead to employer liability. While it may seem reasonable to let the employee determine whether to pursue a complaint, the employer must discharge its duty to prevent and correct harassment.66 One mechanism to help avoid such conflicts would be for the employer to set up an informational phone line which employees can use to discuss questions or concerns about harassment on an anonymous basis.67
Effective Investigative Process
An employer should set up a mechanism for a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into alleged harassment. As soon as management learns about alleged harassment, it should determine whether a detailed fact-finding investigation is necessary. For example, if the alleged harasser does not deny the accusation, there would be no need to interview witnesses, and the employer could immediately determine appropriate corrective action.
If a fact-finding investigation is necessary, it should be launched immediately. The amount of time that it will take to complete the investigation will depend on the particular circumstances.68 If, for example, multiple individuals were allegedly harassed, then it will take longer to interview the parties and witnesses.
It may be necessary to undertake intermediate measures before completing the investigation to ensure that further harassment does not occur. Examples of such measures are making scheduling changes so as to avoid contact between the parties; transferring the alleged harasser; or placing the alleged harasser on non-disciplinary leave with pay pending the conclusion of the investigation. The complainant should not be involuntarily transferred or otherwise burdened, since such measures could constitute unlawful retaliation.
The employer should ensure that the individual who conducts the investigation will objectively gather and consider the relevant facts. The alleged harasser should not have supervisory authority over the individual who conducts the investigation and should not have any direct or indirect control over the investigation. Whoever conducts the investigation should be well-trained in the skills that are required for interviewing witnesses and evaluating credibility.
Questions to Ask Parties and Witnesses
When detailed fact-finding is necessary, the investigator should interview the complainant, the alleged harasser, and third parties who could reasonably be expected to have relevant information. Information relating to the personal lives of the parties outside the workplace would be relevant only in unusual circumstances. When interviewing the parties and witnesses, the investigator should refrain from offering his or her opinion.
The following are examples of questions that may be appropriate to ask the parties and potential witnesses. Any actual investigation must be tailored to the particular facts.
Questions to Ask the Complainant:
- Who, what, when, where, and how: Who committed the alleged harassment? What exactly occurred or was said? When did it occur and is it still ongoing? Where did it occur? How often did it occur? How did it affect you?
- How did you react? What response did you make when the incident(s) occurred or afterwards?
- How did the harassment affect you? Has your job been affected in any way?
- Are there any persons who have relevant information? Was anyone present when the alleged harassment occurred? Did you tell anyone about it? Did anyone see you immediately after episodes of alleged harassment?
- Did the person who harassed you harass anyone else? Do you know whether anyone complained about harassment by that person?
- Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation regarding the incident(s)?
- How would you like to see the situation resolved?
- Do you know of any other relevant information?
Questions to Ask the Alleged Harasser:
- What is your response to the allegations?
- If the harasser claims that the allegations are false, ask why the complainant might lie.
- Are there any persons who have relevant information?
- Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation regarding the incident(s)?
- Do you know of any other relevant information?
Questions to Ask Third Parties:
- What did you see or hear? When did this occur? Describe the alleged harasser’s behavior toward the complainant and toward others in the workplace.
- What did the complainant tell you? When did s/he tell you this?
- Do you know of any other relevant information?
- Are there other persons who have relevant information?
If there are conflicting versions of relevant events, the employer will have to weigh each party’s credibility. Credibility assessments can be critical in determining whether the alleged harassment in fact occurred. Factors to consider include:
- Inherent plausibility: Is the testimony believable on its face? Does it make sense?
- Demeanor: Did the person seem to be telling the truth or lying?
- Motive to falsify: Did the person have a reason to lie?
- Corroboration: Is there witness testimony (such as testimony by eye-witnesses, people who saw the person soon after the alleged incidents, or people who discussed the incidents with him or her at around the time that they occurred) or physical evidence (such as written documentation) that corroborates the party’s testimony?
- Past record: Did the alleged harasser have a history of similar behavior in the past?
None of the above factors are determinative as to credibility. For example, the fact that there are no eye-witnesses to the alleged harassment by no means necessarily defeats the complainant’s credibility, since harassment often occurs behind closed doors. Furthermore, the fact that the alleged harasser engaged in similar behavior in the past does not necessarily mean that he or she did so again.
Reaching a Determination
Once all of the evidence is in, interviews are finalized, and credibility issues are resolved, management should make a determination as to whether harassment occurred. That determination could be made by the investigator, or by a management official who reviews the investigator’s report. The parties should be informed of the determination.
In some circumstances, it may be difficult for management to reach a determination because of direct contradictions between the parties and a lack of documentary or eye-witness corroboration. In such cases, a credibility assessment may form the basis for a determination, based on factors such as those set forth above.
If no determination can be made because the evidence is inconclusive, the employer should still undertake further preventive measures, such as training and monitoring.
Assurance of Immediate and Appropriate Corrective Action
An employer should make clear that it will undertake immediate and appropriate corrective action, including discipline, whenever it determines that harassment has occurred in violation of the employer’s policy. Management should inform both parties about these measures.69
Remedial measures should be designed to stop the harassment, correct its effects on the employee, and ensure that the harassment does not recur. These remedial measures need not be those that the employee requests or prefers, as long as they are effective.
In determining disciplinary measures, management should keep in mind that the employer could be found liable if the harassment does not stop. At the same time, management may have concerns that overly punitive measures may subject the employer to claims such as wrongful discharge, and may simply be inappropriate.
To balance the competing concerns, disciplinary measures should be proportional to the seriousness of the offense.70 If the harassment was minor, such as a small number of “off-color” remarks by an individual with no prior history of similar misconduct, then counseling and an oral warning might be all that is necessary. On the other hand, if the harassment was severe or persistent, then suspension or discharge may be appropriate.71
Remedial measures should not adversely affect the complainant. Thus, for example, if it is necessary to separate the parties, then the harasser should be transferred (unless the complainant prefers otherwise).72 Remedial responses that penalize the complainant could constitute unlawful retaliation and are not effective in correcting the harassment.73
Remedial measures also should correct the effects of the harassment. Such measures should be designed to put the employee in the position s/he would have been in had the misconduct not occurred.
Examples of Measures to Stop the Harassment and Ensure that it Does Not Recur:
- oral74 or written warning or reprimand;
- transfer or reassignment;
- reduction of wages;
- training or counseling of harasser to ensure that s/he understands why his or her conduct violated the employer’s anti-harassment policy; and
- monitoring of harasser to ensure that harassment stops.
Examples of Measures to Correct the Effects of the Harassment:
- restoration of leave taken because of the harassment;
- expungement of negative evaluation(s) in employee’s personnel file that arose from the harassment;
- apology by the harasser;
- monitoring treatment of employee to ensure that s/he is not subjected to retaliation by the harasser or others in the work place because of the complaint; and
- correction of any other harm caused by the harassment (e.g., compensation for losses).
2. Other Preventive and Corrective Measures
An employer’s responsibility to exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct harassment is not limited to implementing an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure. As the Supreme Court stated, “the employer has a greater opportunity to guard against misconduct by supervisors than by common workers; employers have greater opportunity and incentive to screen them, train them, and monitor their performance.” Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2291.
An employer’s duty to exercise due care includes instructing all of its supervisors and managers to address or report to appropriate officials complaints of harassment regardless of whether they are officially designated to take complaints75 and regardless of whether a complaint was framed in a way that conforms to the organization’s particular complaint procedures.76 For example, if an employee files an EEOC charge alleging unlawful harassment, the employer should launch an internal investigation even if the employee did not complain to management through its internal complaint process.
Furthermore, due care requires management to correct harassment regardless of whether an employee files an internal complaint, if the conduct is clearly unwelcome. For example, if there are areas in the workplace with graffiti containing racial or sexual epithets, management should eliminate the graffiti and not wait for an internal complaint.77
An employer should ensure that its supervisors and managers understand their responsibilities under the organization’s anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure. Periodic training of those individuals can help achieve that result. Such training should explain the types of conduct that violate the employer’s anti-harassment policy; the seriousness of the policy; the responsibilities of supervisors and managers when they learn of alleged harassment; and the prohibition against retaliation.
An employer should keep track of its supervisors’ and managers’ conduct to make sure that they carry out their responsibilities under the organization’s anti-harassment program.78 For example, an employer could include such compliance in formal evaluations.
Reasonable preventive measures include screening applicants for supervisory jobs to see if any have a record of engaging in harassment. If so, it may be necessary for the employer to reject a candidate on that basis or to take additional steps to prevent harassment by that individual.
Finally, it is advisable for an employer to keep records of all complaints of harassment. Without such records, the employer could be unaware of a pattern of harassment by the same individual. Such a pattern would be relevant to credibility assessments and disciplinary measures.79
3. Small Businesses
It may not be necessary for an employer of a small workforce to implement the type of formal complaint process described above. If it puts into place an effective, informal mechanism to prevent and correct harassment, a small employer could still satisfy the first prong of the affirmative defense to a claim of harassment.80 As the Court recognized in Faragher, an employer of a small workforce might informally exercise sufficient care to prevent harassment.81
For example, such an employer’s failure to disseminate a written policy against harassment on protected bases would not undermine the affirmative defense if it effectively communicated the prohibition and an effective complaint procedure to all employees at staff meetings. An owner of a small business who regularly meets with all of his or her employees might tell them at monthly staff meetings that he or she will not tolerate harassment and that anyone who experiences harassment should bring it “straight to the top.”
If a complaint is made, the business, like any other employer, must conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation and undertake swift and appropriate corrective action where appropriate. The questions set forth in Section V(C)(1)(e)(i), above, can help guide the inquiry and the factors set forth in Section V(C)(1)(e)(ii) should be considered in evaluating the credibility of each of the parties.
D. Second Prong of Affirmative Defense: Employee’s Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care
The second prong of the affirmative defense requires a showing by the employer that the aggrieved employee “unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.” Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2293; Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2270.
This element of the defense arises from the general theory “that a victim has a duty ‘to use such means as are reasonable under the circumstances to avoid or minimize the damages’ that result from violations of the statute.” Faragher, 18 S. Ct. at 2292, quoting Ford Motor Co. v. EEOC, 458 U.S. 219, 231 n.15 (1982). Thus an employer who exercised reasonable care as described in subsection V(C), above, is not liable for unlawful harassment if the aggrieved employee could have avoided all of the actionable harm. If some but not all of the harm could have been avoided, then an award of damages will be mitigated accordingly.82
A complaint by an employee does not automatically defeat the employer’s affirmative defense. If, for example, the employee provided no information to support his or her allegation, gave untruthful information, or otherwise failed to cooperate in the investigation, the complaint would not qualify as an effort to avoid harm. Furthermore, if the employee unreasonably delayed complaining, and an earlier complaint could have reduced the harm, then the affirmative defense could operate to reduce damages.
Proof that the employee unreasonably failed to use any complaint procedure provided by the employer will normally satisfy the employer’s burden.83 However, it is important to emphasize that an employee who failed to complain does not carry a burden of proving the reasonableness of that decision. Rather, the burden lies with the employer to prove that the employee’s failure to complain was unreasonable.
1. Failure to Complain
A determination as to whether an employee unreasonably failed to complain or otherwise avoid harm depends on the particular circumstances and information available to the employee at that time.84 An employee should not necessarily be expected to complain to management immediately after the first or second incident of relatively minor harassment. Workplaces need not become battlegrounds where every minor, unwelcome remark based on race, sex, or another protected category triggers a complaint and investigation. An employee might reasonably ignore a small number of incidents, hoping that the harassment will stop without resort to the complaint process.85 The employee may directly say to the harasser that s/he wants the misconduct to stop, and then wait to see if that is effective in ending the harassment before complaining to management. If the harassment persists, however, then further delay in complaining might be found unreasonable.
There might be other reasonable explanations for an employee’s delay in complaining or entire failure to utilize the employer’s complaint process. For example, the employee might have had reason to believe that:86
- using the complaint mechanism entailed a risk of retaliation;
- there were obstacles to complaints; and
- the complaint mechanism was not effective.
To establish the second prong of the affirmative defense, the employer must prove that the belief or perception underlying the employee’s failure to complain was unreasonable.
Risk of Retaliation
An employer cannot establish that an employee unreasonably failed to use its complaint procedure if that employee reasonably feared retaliation. Surveys have shown that employees who are subjected to harassment frequently do not complain to management due to fear of retaliation.87 To assure employees that such a fear is unwarranted, the employer must clearly communicate and enforce a policy that no employee will be retaliated against for complaining of harassment.
Obstacles to Complaints
An employee’s failure to use the employer’s complaint procedure would be reasonable if that failure was based on unnecessary obstacles to complaints. For example, if the process entailed undue expense by the employee,88 inaccessible points of contact for making complaints,89 or unnecessarily intimidating or burdensome requirements, failure to invoke it on such a basis would be reasonable.
An employee’s failure to participate in a mandatory mediation or other alternative dispute resolution process also does not does not constitute unreasonable failure to avoid harm. While an employee can be expected to cooperate in the employer’s investigation by providing relevant information, an employee can never be required to waive rights, either substantive or procedural, as an element of his or her exercise of reasonable care.90 Nor must an employee have to try to resolve the matter with the harasser as an element of exercising due care.
Perception That Complaint Process Was Ineffective
An employer cannot establish the second prong of the defense based on the employee’s failure to complain if that failure was based on a reasonable belief that the process was ineffective. For example, an employee would have a reasonable basis to believe that the complaint process is ineffective if the procedure required the employee to complain initially to the harassing supervisor. Such a reasonable basis also would be found if he or she was aware of instances in which co-workers’ complaints failed to stop harassment. One way to increase employees’ confidence in the efficacy of the complaint process would be for the employer to release general information to employees about corrective and disciplinary measures undertaken to stop harassment.91
2. Other Efforts to Avoid Harm
Generally, an employer can prove the second prong of the affirmative defense if the employee unreasonably failed to utilize its complaint process. However, such proof will not establish the defense if the employee made other efforts to avoid harm.
For example, a prompt complaint by the employee to the EEOC or a state fair employment practices agency while the harassment is ongoing could qualify as such an effort. A union grievance could also qualify as an effort to avoid harm.92Similarly, a staffing firm worker who is harassed at the client’s workplace might report the harassment either to the staffing firm or to the client, reasonably expecting that either would act to correct the problem.93 Thus the worker’s failure to complain to one of those entities would not bar him or her from subsequently bringing a claim against it.
With these and any other efforts to avoid harm, the timing of the complaint could affect liability or damages. If the employee could have avoided some of the harm by complaining earlier, then damages would be mitigated accordingly.
VI. Harassment by “Alter Ego” of Employer
A. Standard of Liability
An employer is liable for unlawful harassment whenever the harasser is of a sufficiently high rank to fall “within that class . . . who may be treated as the organization’s proxy.” Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2284.94 In such circumstances, the official’s unlawful harassment is imputed automatically to the employer.95 Thus the employer cannot raise the affirmative defense, even if the harassment did not result in a tangible employment action.
B. Officials Who Qualify as “Alter Egos” or “Proxies”
The Court, in Faragher, cited the following examples of officials whose harassment could be imputed automatically to the employer:
Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2284.
The Supreme Court’s rulings in Ellerth and Faragher create an incentive for employers to implement and enforce strong policies prohibiting harassment and effective complaint procedures. The rulings also create an incentive for employees to alert management about harassment before it becomes severe and pervasive. If employers and employees undertake these steps, unlawful harassment can often be prevented, thereby effectuating an important goal of the anti-discrimination statutes.
5 Faragher, 118 S.Ct. at 2283. However, when isolated incidents that are not “extremely serious” come to the attention of management, appropriate corrective action should still be taken so that they do not escalate. See Section V(C)(1)(a), below.
7 Some previous Commission documents classified harassment as either “quid pro quo” or hostile environment. However, it is now more useful to distinguish between harassment that results in a tangible employment action and harassment that creates a hostile work environment, since that dichotomy determines whether the employer can raise the affirmative defense to vicarious liability. Guidance on the definition of “tangible employment action” appears in section IV(B), below.
10 The Commission will rescind Subsection 1604.11(c) of the 1980 Guidelines on Sexual Harassment, 29 CFR § 1604.11(c). In addition, the following Commission guidance is no longer in effect: Subsection D of the 1990 Policy Statement on Current Issues in Sexual Harassment(“Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors”), EEOC Compliance Manual (BNA) N:4050-58 (3/19/90); and EEOC Compliance Manual Section 615.3(c) (BNA) 6:15-0007 – 0008.
The remaining portions of the 1980 Guidelines, the 1990 Policy Statement, and Section 615 of the Compliance Manual remain in effect. Other Commission guidance on harassment also remains in effect, including the Enforcement Guidance on Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., EEOC Compliance Manual (BNA) N:4071 (3/8/94) and the Policy Guidance on Employer Liability for Sexual Favoritism, EEOC Compliance Manual (BNA) N:5051 (3/19/90).
11 Harassment that is targeted at an individual because of his or her sex violates Title VII even if it does not involve sexual comments or conduct. Thus, for example, frequent, derogatory remarks about women could constitute unlawful harassment even if the remarks are not sexual in nature. See 1990 Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment, subsection C(4) (“sex-based harassment – that is, harassment not involving sexual activity or language – may also give rise to Title VII liability . . . if it is ‘sufficiently patterned or pervasive’ and directed at employees because of their sex”).
12 “Protected activity” means opposition to discrimination or participation in proceedings covered by the anti-discrimination statutes. Harassment based on protected activity can constitute unlawful retaliation. See EEOC Compliance Manual Section 8 (“Retaliation”) (BNA) 614:001 (May 20, 1998).
13 For cases applying Ellerth and Faragher to harassment on different bases, see Hafford v. Seidner, 167 F.3d 1074, 1080 (6th Cir. 1999) (religion and race); Breeding v. Arthur J. Gallagher and Co., 164 F.3d 1151, 1158 (8th Cir. 1999) (age); Allen v. Michigan Department of Corrections, 165 F.3d 405, 411 (6th Cir. 1999) (race) ; Richmond-Hopes v. City of Cleveland, No. 97-3595, 1998 WL 808222 at *9 (6th Cir. Nov. 16, 1998) (unpublished) (retaliation); Wright-Simmons v. City of Oklahoma City, 155 F.3d 1264, 1270 (10th Cir. 1998) (race); Gotfryd v. Book Covers, Inc., No. 97 C 7696, 1999 WL 20925 at *5 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 7, 1999) (national origin). See also Wallin v. Minnesota Department of Corrections, 153 F.3d 681, 687 (8th Cir. 1998) (assuming without deciding that ADA hostile environment claims are modeled after Title VII claims), cert. denied, 119 S. Ct. 1141 (1999).
14 The majority’s analysis in both Faragher and Ellerth drew upon the liability standards for harassment on other protected bases. It is therefore clear that the same standards apply. See Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2283 (in determining appropriate standard of liability for sexual harassment by supervisors, Court “drew upon cases recognizing liability for discriminatory harassment based on race and national origin”); Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2268 (Court imported concept of “tangible employment action” in race, age and national origin discrimination cases for resolution of vicarious liability in sexual harassment cases). See also cases cited in n.13, above.
16 Numerous statutes contain the word “supervisor,” and some contain definitions of the term. See, e.g., 12 U.S.C. § 1813(r) (definition of “State bank supervisor” in legislation regarding Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation); 29 U.S.C. § 152(11) (definition of “supervisor” in National Labor Relations Act); 42 U.S.C.. § 8262(2) (definition of “facility energy supervisor” in Federal Energy Initiative legislation). The definitions vary depending on the purpose and structure of each statute. The definition of the word “supervisor” under other statutes does not control, and is not affected by, the meaning of that term under the employment discrimination statutes.
19 See Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2288 (analysis of vicarious liability “calls not for a mechanical application of indefinite and malleable factors set forth in the Restatement . . . but rather an inquiry into the reasons that would support a conclusion that harassing behavior ought to be held within the scope of a supervisor’s employment . . . ”) and at 2290 n.3 (agency concepts must be adapted to the practical objectives of the anti-discrimination statutes).
24 See Grozdanich v. Leisure Hills Health Center, 25 F. Supp.2d 953, 973 (D. Minn. 1998) (“it is evident that the Supreme Court views the term ‘supervisor’ as more expansive than as merely including those employees whose opinions are dispositive on hiring, firing, and promotion”; thus, “charge nurse” who had authority to control plaintiff’s daily activities and recommend discipline qualified as “supervisor” and therefore rendered employer vicariously liable under Title VII for his harassment of plaintiff, subject to affirmative defense).
25 See Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2268 (“If, in the unusual case, it is alleged there is a false impression that the actor was a supervisor, when he in fact was not, the victim’s mistaken conclusion must be a reasonable one.”); Llampallas v. Mini-Circuit Lab, Inc., 163 F.3d 1236, 1247 (11th Cir. 1998) (“Although the employer may argue that the employee had no actual authority to take the employment action against the plaintiff, apparent authority serves just as well to impute liability to the employer for the employee’s action.”).
27 Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2269; Faragher, 118 S. Ct. 2284-85. See also Durham Life Insurance Co., v. Evans, 166 F.3d 139, 152 (3rd Cir. 1999) (“A supervisor can only take a tangible adverse employment action because of the authority delegated by the employer . . . and thus the employer is properly charged with the consequences of that delegation.”).
31 Other forms of formal discipline would qualify as well, such as suspension. Any disciplinary action undertaken as part of a program of progressive discipline is “tangible” because it brings the employee one step closer to discharge.
32 The Commission disagrees with the Fourth Circuit’s conclusion in Reinhold v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 151 F.3d 172 (4th Cir. 1998), that the plaintiff was not subjected to a tangible employment action where the harassing supervisor “dramatically increased her workload,” Reinhold, 947 F. Supp. 919, 923 (E.D Va. 1996), denied her the opportunity to attend a professional conference, required her to monitor and discipline a co-worker, and generally gave her undesirable assignments. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the plaintiff had not been subjected to a tangible employment action because she had not “experienced a change in her employment status akin to a demotion or a reassignment entailing significantly different job responsibilities.” 151 F.3d at 175. It is the Commission’s view that the Fourth Circuit misconstrued Faragher and Ellerth. While minor changes in work assignments would not rise to the level of tangible job harm, the actions of the supervisor in Reinhold were substantial enough to significantly alter the plaintiff’s employment status.
33 See Durham, 166 F.3d at 152-53 (assigning insurance salesperson heavy load of inactive policies, which had a severe negative impact on her earnings, and depriving her of her private office and secretary, were tangible employment actions);Bryson v. Chicago State University, 96 F.3d 912, 917 (7th Cir. 1996) (“Depriving someone of the building blocks for . . . a promotion . . . is just as serious as depriving her of the job itself.”).
34 See Flaherty v. Gas Research Institute, 31 F.3d 451, 457 (7th Cir. 1994) (change in reporting relationship requiring plaintiff to report to former subordinate, while maybe bruising plaintiff’s ego, did not affect his salary, benefits, and level of responsibility and therefore could not be challenged in ADEA claim), cited in Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2269.
35 See Crady v. Liberty Nat. Bank & Trust Co. of Ind., 993 F.2d 132, 136 (7th Cir. 1993) (“A materially adverse change might be indicated by a termination of employment, a demotion evidenced by a decrease in wage or salary, a less distinguished title, a material loss of benefits, significantly diminished material responsibilities, or other indices that might be unique to the particular situation.”), quoted in Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2268-69.
36 See Nichols v. Frank, 42 F.3d 503, 512-13 (9th Cir. 1994) (employer vicariously liable where its supervisor granted plaintiff’s leave requests based on her submission to sexual conduct), cited in Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2285.
37 See Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2268 and Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2284 (listed examples of tangible employment actions that included both positive and negative job decisions: hiring and firing; promotion and failure to promote).
38 The link could be established even if the harasser was not the ultimate decision maker. See, e.g., Shager v Upjohn Co., 913 F.2d 398, 405 (7th Cir. 1990) (noting that committee rather than the supervisor fired plaintiff, but employer was still liable because committee functioned as supervisor’s “cat’s paw”), cited in Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2269.
40 Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2270 (“[n]o affirmative defense is available . . . when the supervisor’s harassment culminates in a tangible employment action . . .”); Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2293 (same). See also Durham, 166 F.3d at 154 (“When harassment becomes adverse employment action, the employer loses the affirmative defense, even if it might have been available before.”); Lissau v. Southern Food Services, Inc., 159 F.3d 177, 184 (4th Cir. 1998) (the affirmative defense “is not available in a hostile work environment case when the supervisor takes a tangible employment action against the employee as part of the harassment”) (Michael, J., concurring).
42 See Lissau v. Southern Food Service, Inc., 159 F.3d at 182 (if plaintiff could not prove that her discharge resulted from her refusal to submit to her supervisor’s sexual harassment, then the defendant could advance the affirmative defense); Newton v. Caldwell Laboratories, 156 F.3d 880, 883 (8th Cir. 1998) (plaintiff failed to prove that her rejection of her supervisor’s sexual advances was the reason that her request for a transfer was denied and that she was discharged; her claim was therefore categorized as one of hostile environment harassment); Fierro v. Saks Fifth Avenue, 13 F. Supp.2d 481, 491 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (plaintiff claimed that his discharge resulted from national origin harassment but court found that he was discharged because of embezzlement; thus, employer could raise affirmative defense as to the harassment preceding the discharge).
44 See, e.g., EEOC v. SBS Transit, Inc., No. 97-4164, 1998 WL 903833 at *1 (6th Cir. Dec. 18, 1998) (unpublished) (lower court erred when it reasoned that employer liability for sexual harassment is negated if the employer responds adequately and effectively once it has notice of the supervisor’s harassment; that standard conflicts with affirmative defense which requires proof that employer “took reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior and that the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the employer”).
46 See Indest v. Freeman Decorating, Inc., 168 F.3d 795, 803 (5th Cir. 1999) (“when an employer satisfies the first element of the Supreme Court’s affirmative defense, it will likely forestall its own vicarious liability for a supervisor’s discriminatory conduct by nipping such behavior in the bud”) (Wiener, J., concurring in Indest, 164 F.3d 258 (5th Cir. 1999)). The Commission agrees with Judge Wiener’s concurrence in Indest that the court in that case dismissed the plaintiff’s claims on an erroneous basis. The plaintiff alleged that her supervisor made five crude sexual comments or gestures to her during a week-long convention. She reported the incidents to appropriate management officials who investigated the matter and meted out appropriate discipline. No further incidents of harassment occurred. The court noted that it was “difficult to conclude” that the conduct to which the plaintiff was briefly subjected created an unlawful hostile environment. Nevertheless, the court went on to consider liability. It stated that Ellerth and Faragher do not apply where the plaintiff quickly resorted to the employer’s grievance procedure and the employer took prompt remedial action. In such a case, according to the court, the employer’s quick response exempts it from liability. The Commission agrees with Judge Wiener that Ellerth and Faragher do control the analysis in such cases, and that an employee’s prompt complaint to management forecloses the employer from proving the affirmative defense. However, as Judge Wiener pointed out, an employer’s quick remedial action will often thwart the creation of an unlawful hostile environment, rendering any consideration of employer liability unnecessary.
47 See Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 674 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (in order for defendant to avoid all liability for sexual harassment leading to rape of plaintiff “it must show not merely that [the plaintiff] inexcusably delayed reporting the alleged rape . . . but that, as a matter of law, a reasonable person in [her] place would have come forward early enough to prevent [the] harassment from becoming ‘severe or pervasive’”).
49 Under this same principle, it is the Commission’s position that an employer is liable for punitive damages if its supervisor commits unlawful harassment or other discriminatory conduct with malice or with reckless indifference to the employee’s federally protected rights. (The Supreme Court will determine the standard for awarding punitive damages in Kolstad v. American Dental Association,119 S. Ct. 401 (1998) (granting certiorari).) The test for imposition of punitive damages is the mental state of the harasser, not of higher-level officials. This approach furthers the remedial and deterrent objectives of the anti-discrimination statutes, and is consistent with the vicarious liability standard set forth in Faragherand Ellerth.
50 Even if higher management proves that evidence it discovered after-the-fact would have justified the supervisor’s action, such evidence can only limit remedies, not eliminate liability. McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publishing Co., 513 U.S. 352, 360-62 (1995).
54 See Hurley v. Atlantic City Police Dept., No. 96-5634, 96-5633, 96-5661, 96-5738, 1999 WL 150301 (3d Cir. March 18, 1999) (“Ellerth and Faragher do not, as the defendants seem to assume, focus mechanically on the formal existence of a sexual harassment policy, allowing an absolute defense to a hostile work environment claim whenever the employer can point to an anti-harassment policy of some sort”; defendant failed to prove affirmative defense where it issued written policies without enforcing them, painted over offensive graffiti every few months only to see it go up again in minutes, and failed to investigate sexual harassment as it investigated and punished other forms of misconduct.).
55 See Dees v. Johnson Controls World Services, Inc., 168 F.3d 417, 422 (11th Cir. 1999) (employer can be held liable despite its immediate and appropriate corrective action in response to harassment complaint if it had knowledge of the harassment prior to the complaint and took no corrective action).
57 A union grievance and arbitration system does not fulfill this obligation. Decision making under such a system addresses the collective interests of bargaining unit members, while decision making under an internal harassment complaint process should focus on the individual complainant’s rights under the employer’s anti-harassment policy.
An arbitration, mediation, or other alternative dispute resolution process also does not fulfill the employer’s duty of due care. The employer cannot discharge its responsibility to investigate complaints of harassment and undertake corrective measures by providing employees with a dispute resolution process. For further discussion of the impact of such procedures on the affirmative defense, see Section V(D)(1)(b), below.
Finally, a federal agency’s formal, internal EEO complaint process does not, by itself, fulfill its obligation to exercise reasonable care. That process only addresses complaints of violations of the federal EEO laws, while the Court, in Ellerth, made clear that an employer should encourage employees “to report harassing conduct before it becomes severe or pervasive.” Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2270. Furthermore, the EEO process is designed to assess whether the agency is liable for unlawful discrimination and does not necessarily fulfill the agency’s obligation to undertake immediate and appropriate corrective action.
58 Although the affirmative defense does not apply in cases of harassment by co-workers or non-employees, an employer cannot claim lack of knowledge as a defense to such harassment if it did not make clear to employees that they can bring such misconduct to the attention of management and that such complaints will be addressed. See Perry v. Ethan Allen, 115 F.3d 143, 149 (2d Cir. 1997) (“When harassment is perpetrated by the plaintiff’s coworkers, an employer will be liable if the plaintiff demonstrates that ‘the employer either provided no reasonable avenue for complaint or knew of the harassment but did nothing about it’”), cited in Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2289. Furthermore, an employer is liable for harassment by a co-worker or non-employer if management knew or should have known of the misconduct, unless the employer can show that it took immediate and appropriate corrective action. 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(d). Therefore, the employer should have a mechanism for investigating such allegations and undertaking corrective action, where appropriate.
59 Surveys have shown that a common reason for failure to report harassment to management is fear of retaliation. See, e.g., Louise F. Fitzgerald & Suzanne Swan, “Why Didn’t She Just Report Him? The Psychological and Legal Implications of Women’s Responses to Sexual Harassment,” 51 Journal of Social Issues 117, 121-22 (1995) (citing studies). Surveys also have shown that a significant proportion of harassment victims are worse off after complaining. Id. at 123-24; see also Patricia A. Frazier, “Overview of Sexual Harassment From the Behavioral Science Perspective,” paper presented at the American Bar Association National Institute on Sexual Harassment at B-17 (1998) (reviewing studies that show frequency of retaliation after victims confront their harasser or filed formal complaints).
60 See Wilson v. Tulsa Junior College, 164 F.3d 534, 541 (10th Cir. 1998) (complaint process deficient where it permitted employees to bypass the harassing supervisor by complaining to director of personnel services, but the director was inaccessible due to hours of duty and location in separate facility).
61 Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2293 (in holding as matter of law that City did not exercise reasonable care to prevent the supervisors’ harassment, Court took note of fact that City’s policy “did not include any assurance that the harassing supervisors could be bypassed in registering complaints”); Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 471 U.S. 57, 72 (1986).
62 See Wilson, 164 F.3d at 541 (complaint procedure deficient because it only required supervisors to report “formal” as opposed to “informal” complaints of harassment); Varner v. National Super Markets Inc., 94 F.3d 1209, 1213 (8th Cir. 1996), cert denied, 519 U.S. 1110 (1997) (complaint procedure is not effective if it does not require supervisor with knowledge of harassment to report the information to those in position to take appropriate action).
63 It is particularly important for federal agencies to explain the statute of limitations for filing formal EEO complaints, because the regulatory deadline is only 45 days and employees may otherwise assume they can wait whatever length of time it takes for management to complete its internal investigation.
64 If an employer actively misleads an employee into missing the deadline for filing a charge by dragging out its investigation and assuring the employee that the harassment will be rectified, then the employer would be “equitably stopped” from challenging the delay. See Currier v. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc., 159 F.3d 1363, 1368 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (“an employer’s affirmatively misleading statements that a grievance will be resolved in the employee’s favor can establish an equitable estoppel”); Miranda v. B & B Cash Grocery Store, Inc., 975 F.2d 1518, 1531 (11th Cir. 1992) (tolling is appropriate where plaintiff was led by defendant to believe that the discriminatory treatment would be rectified); Miller v. Beneficial Management Corp., 977 F.2d 834, 845 (3d Cir. 1992) (equitable tolling applies where employer’s own acts or omission has lulled the plaintiff into foregoing prompt attempt to vindicate his rights).
65 The sharing of records about a harassment complaint with prospective employers of the complainant could constitute unlawful retaliation. See Compliance Manual Section 8 (“Retaliation), subsection II D (2), (BNA) 614:0005 (5/20/98).
66 One court has suggested that it may be permissible to honor such a request, but that when the harassment is severe, an employer cannot just stand by, even if requested to do so. Torres v. Pisano, 116 F.3d 625 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 563(1997).
67 Employers may hesitate to set up such a phone line due to concern that it may create a duty to investigate anonymous complaints, even if based on mere rumor. To avoid any confusion as to whether an anonymous complaint through such a phone line triggers an investigation, the employer should make clear that the person who takes the calls is not a management official and can only answer questions and provide information. An investigation will proceed only if a complaint is made through the internal complaint process or if management otherwise learns about alleged harassment.
68 See, e.g., Van Zant v. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, 80 F.3d 708, 715 (2d Cir. 1996) (employer’s response prompt where it began investigation on the day that complaint was made, conducted interviews within two days, and fired the harasser within ten days); Steiner v. Showboat Operating Co., 25 F.3d 1459, 1464 (9th Cir. 1994) (employer’s response to complaints inadequate despite eventual discharge of harasser where it did not seriously investigate or strongly reprimand supervisor until after plaintiff filed charge with state FEP agency), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1082 (1995); Saxton v. AT&T, 10 F.3d 526, 535 (7th Cir 1993) (investigation prompt where it was begun one day after complaint and a detailed report was completed two weeks later); Nash v. Electrospace Systems, Inc. 9 F.3d 401, 404 (5th Cir. 1993) (prompt investigation completed within one week); Juarez v. Ameritech Mobile Communications, Inc., 957 F.2d 317, 319 (7th Cir. 1992) (adequate investigation completed within four days).
69 Management may be reluctant to release information about specific disciplinary measures that it undertakes against the harasser, due to concerns about potential defamation claims by the harasser. However, many courts have recognized that limited disclosures of such information are privileged. For cases addressing defenses to defamation claims arising out of alleged harassment, see Duffy v. Leading Edge Products, 44 F.3d 308, 311 (5th Cir. 1995) (qualified privilege applied to statements accusing plaintiff of harassment); Garziano v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 818 F.2d 380 (5th Cir. 1987) (qualified privilege protects employer’s statements in bulletin to employees concerning dismissal of alleged harasser); Stockley v. AT&T, 687 F. Supp. 764 (F. Supp. 764 (E.D.N.Y. 1988) (statements made in course of investigation into sexual harassment charges protected by qualified privilege).
71 In some cases, accused harassers who were subjected to discipline and subsequently exonerated have claimed that the disciplinary action was discriminatory. No discrimination will be found if the employer had a good faith belief that such action was warranted and there is no evidence that it undertook less punitive measures against similarly situated employees outside his or her protected class who were accused of harassment. In such circumstances, the Commission will not find pretext based solely on an after-the-fact conclusion that the disciplinary action was inappropriate. See Waggoner v. City of Garland Tex., 987 F.2d 1160, 1165 (5th Cir. 1993) (where accused harasser claims that disciplinary action was discriminatory, “[t]he real issue is whether the employer reasonably believed the employee’s allegation [of harassment] and acted on it in good faith, or to the contrary, the employer did not actually believe the co-employee’s allegation but instead used it as a pretext for an otherwise discriminatory dismissal”).
72 See Steiner v. Showboat Operating Co., 25 F.3d 1459, 1464 (9th Cir. 1994) (employer remedial action for sexual harassment by supervisor inadequate where it twice changed plaintiff’s shift to get her away from supervisor rather than change his shift or work area), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1082 (1995).
74 An oral warning or reprimand would be appropriate only if the misconduct was isolated and minor. If an employer relies on oral warnings or reprimands to correct harassment, it will have difficulty proving that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct such misconduct.
75 See Varner, 94 F.3d at 1213 (complaint procedure is not effective if it does not require supervisor with knowledge of harassment to report the information to those in position to take appropriate action), cert denied, 117 S. Ct. 946 (1997); accord Wilson v. Tulsa Junior College, 164 F.3d at 541.
77 See, e.g., Splunge v. Shoney’s, Inc., 97 F.3d 488, 490 (11th Cir. 1996) (where harassment of plaintiffs was so pervasive that higher management could be deemed to have constructive knowledge of it, employer was obligated to undertake corrective action even though plaintiffs did not register complaints); Fall v. Indiana Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 12 F. Supp.2d 870, 882 (N.D. Ind. 1998) (employer has constructive knowledge of harassment by supervisors where it “was so broad in scope and so permeated the workplace that it must have come to the attention of someone authorized to do something about it”).
78 In Faragher, the City lost the opportunity to establish the affirmative defense in part because “its officials made no attempt to keep track of the conduct of supervisors.” Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2293.
80 If the owner of the business commits unlawful harassment, then the business will automatically be found liable under the alter ego standard and no affirmative defense can be raised. See Section VI, below.
82 Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2292 (“If the victim could have avoided harm, no liability should be found against the employer who had taken reasonable care, and if damages could reasonably have been mitigated no award against a liable employer should reward a plaintiff for what her own efforts could have avoided.”).
83 Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2270; Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2293. See also Scrivner v. Socorro Independent School District, 169 F.3d 969, 971 (5th Cir., 1999) (employer established second prong of defense where harassment began during summer, plaintiff misled investigators inquiring into anonymous complaint by denying that harassment occurred, and plaintiff did not complain about the harassment until the following March).
85 See Corcoran v. Shoney’s Colonial, Inc., 24 F. Supp.2d 601, 606 (W.D. Va. 1998) (“Though unwanted sexual remarks have no place in the work environment, it is far from uncommon for those subjected to such remarks to ignore them when they are first made.”).
86 See Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2292 (defense established if plaintiff unreasonably failed to avail herself of “a proven, effective mechanism for reporting and resolving complaints of sexual harassment, available to the employee without undue risk or expense”). See also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 918, comment c (tort victim “is not barred from full recovery by the fact that it would have been reasonable for him to make expenditures or subject himself to pain or risk; it is only when he is unreasonable in refusing or failing to take action to prevent further loss that his damages are curtailed”).
88 See Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2292 (employee should not recover for harm that could have been avoided by utilizing a proven, effective complaint process that was available “without undue risk or expense”).
92 See Watts v. Kroger Company, 170 F.3d 505, 510 (5th Cir., 1999) (plaintiff made effort “to avoid harm otherwise” where she filed a union grievance and did not utilize the employer’s harassment complaint process; both the employer and union procedures were corrective mechanisms designed to avoid harm).
93 Both the staffing firm and the client may be legally responsible, under the anti-discrimination statutes, for undertaking corrective action. See Enforcement Guidance: Application of EEO Laws to Contingent Workers Placed by Temporary Employment Agencies and Other Staffing Firms, EEOC Compliance Manual (BNA) N:3317 (12/3/97).
94 See also Ellerth, 118 S. Ct. at 2267(under agency principles an employer is indirectly liable “where the agent’s high rank in the company makes him or her the employer’s alter ego”); Harrison v. Eddy Potash, Inc., 158 F.3d 1371, 1376 (10th Cir. 1998) (“the Supreme Court in Burlington acknowledged an employer can be held vicariously liable under Title VII if the harassing employee’s ‘high rank in the company makes him or her the employer’s alter ego’”).
96 The Court noted that the standards for employer liability were not at issue in the case of Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 U.S. 17 (1993), because the harasser was the president of the company. Faragher, 118 S. Ct. at 2284.
97 An individual who has an ownership interest in an organization, receives compensation based on its profits, and participates in managing the organization would qualify as an “owner” or “partner.” Serapion v. Martinez, 119 F.3d 982, 990 (1st Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 690 (1998).
Questions and Answers for Small Employers on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) prohibits harassment of an employee based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits harassment of employees who are 40 or older on the basis of age, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits harassment based on disability, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits harassment of an employee based on genetic information. All of the anti-discrimination statutes enforced by the EEOC prohibit retaliation for complaining of discrimination or participating in complaint proceedings.
The Supreme Court issued two major decisions in June of 1998 that explained when employers will be held legally responsible for unlawful harassment by supervisors. The EEOC‘s Guidance on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors examines those decisions and provides practical guidance regarding the duty of employers to prevent and correct harassment and the duty of employees to avoid harassment by using their employers’ complaint procedures.
1. When does harassment violate federal law?
- Harassment violates federal law if it involves discriminatory treatment based on race, color, sex (with or without sexual conduct), religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, or because the employee opposed job discrimination or participated in an investigation or complaint proceeding under the EEO statutes. Federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. The conduct must be sufficiently frequent or severe to create a hostile work environment or result in a “tangible employment action,” such as hiring, firing, promotion, or demotion.
2. Does the guidance apply only to sexual harassment?
- No, it applies to all types of unlawful harassment.
3. When is an employer legally responsible for harassment by a supervisor?
- An employer is always responsible for harassment by a supervisor that culminated in a tangible employment action. If the harassment did not lead to a tangible employment action, the employer is liable unless it proves that: 1) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassment; and 2) the employee unreasonably failed to complain to management or to avoid harm otherwise
4. Who qualifies as a “supervisor” for purposes of employer liability?
- An individual qualifies as an employee’s “supervisor” if the individual has the authority to recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee.
5. What is a “tangible employment action”?
- A “tangible employment action” means a significant change in employment status. Examples include hiring, firing, promotion, demotion, undesirable reassignment, a decision causing a significant change in benefits, compensation decisions, and work assignment.
6. How might harassment culminate in a tangible employment action?
- This might occur if a supervisor fires or demotes a subordinate because she rejects his sexual demands, or promotes her because she submits to his sexual demands.
7. What should employers do to prevent and correct harassment?
- Employers should establish, distribute to all employees, and enforce a policy prohibiting harassment and setting out a procedure for making complaints. In most cases, the policy and procedure should be in writing.
- Small businesses may be able to discharge their responsibility to prevent and correct harassment through less formal means. For example, if a business is sufficiently small that the owner maintains regular contact with all employees, the owner can tell the employees at staff meetings that harassment is prohibited, that employees should report such conduct promptly, and that a complaint can be brought “straight to the top.” If the business conducts a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of any complaint that arises and undertakes swift and appropriate corrective action, it will have fulfilled its responsibility to “effectively prevent and correct harassment.”
8. What should an anti-harassment policy say?
- An employer’s anti-harassment policy should make clear that the employer will not tolerate harassment based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information, or harassment based on opposition to discrimination or participation in complaint proceedings. The policy should also state that the employer will not tolerate retaliation against anyone who complains of harassment or who participates in an investigation.
9. What are important elements of a complaint procedure
- The employer should encourage employees to report harassment to management before it becomes severe or pervasive.
- The employer should designate more than one individual to take complaints, and should ensure that these individuals are in accessible locations. The employer also should instruct all of its supervisors to report complaints of harassment to appropriate officials.
- The employer should assure employees that it will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible.
10. Is a complaint procedure adequate if employees are instructed to report harassment to their immediate supervisors?
- No, because the supervisor may be the one committing harassment or may not be impartial. It is advisable for an employer to designate at least one official outside an employee’s chain of command to take complaints, to assure that the complaint will be handled impartially.
11. How should an employer investigate a harassment complaint?
- An employer should conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation. The alleged harasser should not have any direct or indirect control over the investigation.
- The investigator should interview the employee who complained of harassment, the alleged harasser, and others who could reasonably be expected to have relevant information. The Guidance provides examples of specific questions that may be appropriate to ask.
- Before completing the investigation, the employer should take steps to make sure that harassment does not continue. If the parties have to be separated, then the separation should not burden the employee who has complained of harassment. An involuntary transfer of the complainant could constitute unlawful retaliation. Other examples of interim measures are making scheduling changes to avoid contact between the parties or placing the alleged harasser on non-disciplinary leave with pay pending the conclusion of the investigation.
12. How should an employer correct harassment?
- If an employer determines that harassment occurred, it should take immediate measures to stop the harassment and ensure that it does not recur. Disciplinary measures should be proportional to the seriousness of the offense. The employer also should correct the effects of the harassment by, for example, restoring leave taken because of the harassment and expunging negative evaluations in the employee’s personnel file that arose from the harassment.
13. Are there other measures that employers should take to prevent and correct harassment?
- An employer should correct harassment that is clearly unwelcome regardless of whether a complaint is filed. For example, if there is graffiti in the workplace containing racial or sexual epithets, management should not wait for a complaint before erasing it.
- An employer should ensure that its supervisors and managers understand their responsibilities under the organization’s anti-harassment policy and complaint procedures.
- An employer should screen applicants for supervisory jobs to see if they have a history of engaging in harassment. If so, and the employer hires such a candidate, it must take steps to monitor actions taken by that individual in order to prevent harassment.
- An employer should keep records of harassment complaints and check those records when a complaint of harassment is made to reveal any patterns of harassment by the same individuals.
14. Does an employee who is harassed by his or her supervisor have any responsibilities?
- Yes. The employee must take reasonable steps to avoid harm from the harassment. Usually, the employee will exercise this responsibility by using the employer’s complaint procedure.
15. Is an employer legally responsible for its supervisor’s harassment if the employee failed to use the employer’s complaint procedure?
- No, unless the harassment resulted in a tangible employment action or unless it was reasonable for the employee not to complain to management. An employee’s failure to complain would be reasonable, for example, if he or she had a legitimate fear of retaliation. The employer must prove that the employee acted unreasonably.
16. If an employee complains to management about harassment, should he or she wait for management to complete the investigation before filing a charge with EEOC?
- It may make sense to wait to see if management corrects the harassment before filing a charge. However, if management does not act promptly to investigate the complaint and undertake corrective action, then it may be appropriate to file a charge. The deadline for filing an EEOC charge is either 180 or 300 days after the last date of alleged harassment, depending on the state in which the allegation arises. This deadline is not extended because of an employer’s internal investigation of the complaint.
Further guidance on harassment can be found in the 1999 Guidance on Employer Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors; the 1980 Guidelines on Sexual Harassment; the 1990 Policy Statement on Current Issues in Sexual Harassment; the 1990 Policy Statement on Sexual Favoritism; and the 1994 Enforcement Guidance on Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc.. These can all be found on EEOC‘s web site https://www.eeoc.gov. They are also available by calling the EEOC‘s Publications Distribution Center (800-669-3362 or TTY 800-800-3302), or send inquiries to:
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs
131 M Street, NE
Washington, D.C. 20507
Reasonable Accommodation Policy
- Specify that your business provides reasonable accommodations (changes to the way things are normally done at work) to applicants and employees who need them for medical or religious reasons, as required by law.*
- Identify and provide contact information for the individual(s) responsible for handling reasonable accommodation requests.
- Require managers to respond promptly and effectively to reasonable accommodation requests.
- Consider requiring that applicants and employees be updated on the status of their accommodation requests, especially if identification and/or provision of the accommodation takes longer than expected.
- Consider proposing temporary accommodation(s) if the agreed-upon accommodation cannot be provided immediately.
- Explain that in certain circumstances, you may need to request additional medical or religious information or documentation to establish whether the individual’s medical condition or religious beliefs are protected by law, or to determine whether and what type(s) of accommodations would be effective. Encourage applicants and employees to respond to these requests promptly.
- Require managers to keep any medical information received as part of an accommodation request or during the accommodation process confidential and in a separate medical file.
- Consider requiring that decisions to either deny accommodation requests or to provide accommodations other than the requested accommodation(s) be explained to the applicant or employee. This may help prevent misunderstandings and complaints.
- Explain how employees can report discrimination related to reasonable accommodations (such as improper denial of a reasonable accommodation request).
- Describe the consequences of violating the reasonable accommodation policy.
* Federal, state and local laws may require you to provide reasonable accommodations for other reasons. Federal, state and local government websites may have additional information about these laws.
Manager Responsibilities – Reasonable Accommodation Tips
The laws enforced by the EEOC require employers to provide reasonable accommodations (changes to the way things are normally done at work) because of an employee’s disability or religious beliefs, in certain circumstances.*
Ensuring that managers understand their reasonable accommodation responsibilities may help prevent disability discrimination and religious discrimination.
You may decide to designate one person, or a small group of people, to handle reasonable accommodation requests. If so, ensure that this person or group of people understands:
- Your business’s rules and policies regarding reasonable accommodation;
- How to recognize a request for a disability accommodation or a religious accommodation;
- How to respond to a disability accommodation or religious accommodation request;
- The circumstances under which they may request additional medical or religious information or documentation, if needed to establish whether the individual’s medical condition or religious beliefs are protected by law, or to determine whether and what type(s) of accommodation might be effective;
- The importance of responding promptly and effectively to accommodation requests;
- The importance of keeping requests for disability accommodation confidential; and
- The importance of keeping any medical information obtained as a result of a reasonable accommodation request confidential and in a separate medical file.
Managers who are not designated to handle reasonable accommodation requests also have responsibilities. In particular, ensure that they understand:
- Your business’s rules and policies regarding reasonable accommodation;
- How to recognize a request for a disability accommodation or a religious accommodation ;
- Who to contact if they receive a disability accommodation or religious accommodation request;
- The importance of keeping requests for disability accommodation confidential;
- The fact that there are strict rules about when employers may legally request medical information from applicants or employees; and
- The importance of keeping any medical information obtained as a result of a reasonable accommodation request confidential and in a separate medical file.
Basic rule: With limited exceptions, you must keep confidential any medical information you learn about an applicant or employee. Information can be confidential even if it contains no medical diagnosis or treatment course and even if it is not generated by a health care professional.
Example: An employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation would be considered medical information subject to the ADA’s confidentiality requirements.
Practice tip: Do not place medical information in regular personnel files. Rather, keep medical information in a separate medical file that is accessible only to designated officials. Medical information stored electronically must be similarly protected (e.g., by storing it on a separate database).
The ADA recognizes that employers may sometimes have to disclose medical information about applicants or employees. Therefore, the law contains certain exceptions to the general rule requiring confidentiality. Information that is otherwise confidential under the ADA may be disclosed:
- to supervisors and managers where they need medical information in order to provide a reasonable accommodation or to meet an employee’s work restrictions;
- to first aid and safety personnel if an employee would need emergency treatment or require some other assistance (such as help during an emergency evacuation) because of a medical condition;
- to individuals investigating compliance with the ADA and with similar state and local laws; and
- pursuant to workers’ compensation laws (e.g., to a state workers’ compensation office in order to evaluate a claim) or for insurance purposes.
- Once a reasonable accommodation is requested, you and the individual should discuss his/her needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation. Where more than one accommodation would work, you may choose the one that is less costly or that is easier to provide.
- “Interactive process” is a formal way of saying that you and the employee or applicant should talk about the request for a reasonable accommodation, especially where the need for the accommodation might not be obvious. A conversation also helps where there may be a question regarding what type of accommodation might best help the individual apply for a job or perform the essential functions of a job.
- If the need for an accommodation is not obvious, you may ask for documentation describing the individual’s disability and why the requested accommodation is needed.
- What you may do:
- Specify what types of information you are seeking about the disability and needed accommodation.
- Explain what you will need to know (e.g., the type of impairment the individual has, how the impairment limits a major life activity (like sitting, standing, performing manual tasks, or sleeping).
- Request information about how an accommodation would enable the employee to perform job-related tasks.
- Consider providing the employee’s health care professional with a description of the job’s essential functions to increase the likelihood that you will get accurate and complete information the first time you ask for it.
- Not enough information?
- If you don’t get sufficient information in response to your initial request for documentation, explain what additional information you need and then allow the individual an opportunity to provide it.
- Note that there are limitations on the amount of documentation an employer may obtain. For example, you may not ask for an individual’s entire medical record or for information about conditions unrelated to the impairment for which accommodation has been requested.
Practice tip: You also may make an accommodation without requesting any documentation at all. You are free to rely instead on an individual’s own description of his or her limitations and needs.
Consider putting procedures for providing reasonable accommodations in writing (though this may not be necessary, particularly if you are a very small employer and have one person designated to receive and process accommodation requests).
As an alternative to written procedures, you might include a short statement in an employee handbook indicating that you will provide reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities, along with the name and telephone number of the person designated to handle requests.
You also may want to indicate on written job applications that you will provide reasonable accommodations for the application process and during employment.
And bear in mind, whether you have written procedures or not:
- Develop time frames within which accommodations generally will be provided, remembering that you must respond promptly to a request.
- Keep lines of communication open, particularly when it will take longer than expected to provide an accommodation or when you need more supporting documentation from the individual.
- Use outside resources to identify and provide reasonable accommodations (see Appendix B).
- Explain your decision – share your reasons with an applicant or employee so that s/he understands why you denied the request.
Basic rule: There are many accommodations that enable individuals with disabilities to apply for jobs, be productive workers, and enjoy equal employment opportunities. In general, though, they can be grouped into the following categories.
Practice tip: There are tax incentives available to many small businesses for providing some of the reasonable accommodations described below. (See Appendix A.)
- Equipment. Purchasing equipment or modifying existing equipment is a form of reasonable accommodation.
Example: A medical clinic could purchase amplified stethoscopes for use by hearing-impaired nurses, physicians, and other members of the health care staff.
- Accessible Materials. You may have to make written materials accessible to an individual with a disability who may not be able to read or understand them. Simple accommodations could include having someone read a list of employee conduct rules to an employee with a visual impairment or providing a simpler explanation of the rules for an employee with a cognitive disability.
- Changes to the Workplace. Making changes to your facilities or work areas is a form of reasonable accommodation.
Example: A small retail store could lower a paper cup dispenser near the water fountain and reconfigure store displays so that an employee in a wheelchair can get water and have access to all parts of the store.
- Job-Restructuring. Job-restructuring includes shifting responsibility to other employees for minor tasks (or “marginal functions”) that an employee is unable to perform because of a disability and altering when and/or how a task is performed.
Example: If moving boxes of files into a storage room is a function that a secretary performs only from time to time, this function could likely be reallocated to other employees if the secretary’s severe back impairment makes him unable to perform it.
But: You do not have to remove the essential functions (i.e., fundamental duties) of the job.
Example: Where an employee has to spend a significant amount of time retrieving heavy boxes of merchandise and loading them into customers’ cars as part of his job, he probably cannot be relieved of this duty as an accommodation.
Where your workforce is small and all workers must be able to perform a number of different tasks, job restructuring may not be possible.
- Working at home. If this accommodation is requested, consider whether any or all of the job’s essential functions can be performed from home.
- Computers, internet access, telephones, and fax machines make it possible to do many kinds of jobs from home at least some of the time.
Example: A telemarketer, proofreader, researcher, or writer may have the type of job that can be performed at least partly at home.
But: Where the work involves use of materials that cannot be replicated at home, direct customer and co-worker access is necessary, or immediate access to documents in the workplace is necessary and cannot be anticipated in advance, working at home likely would present an undue hardship.
- Computers, internet access, telephones, and fax machines make it possible to do many kinds of jobs from home at least some of the time.
- Modified Work Schedules. This may involve adjusting arrival or departure time, providing periodic breaks, or altering when certain job tasks are performed.
Example: An accountant for a small employer whose medication for depression causes extreme grogginess in the morning may not be able to begin work at 9:00 a.m., but could work from 10:00 until 6:30 without affecting her ability to complete tasks in a timely manner.
Example: It may be an undue hardship to adjust the arrival time for someone on a construction crew if it would affect the ability of others to begin work.
- Leave. Allowing an employee to use accrued paid leave, and providing additional unpaid leave once an employee has exhausted all available leave, is also a form of reasonable accommodation. Leave may be provided for a number of reasons related to a disability: for example, to allow an employee to receive or recover from treatment related to a disability or recover when a condition “flares up.”
- Determine whether the request is covered by your general leave policy for all employees. If yes, grant the leave according to your policy.
- If an employee requests more leave than would be available under your policy, consider whether additional leave could be provided as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship.
But: Not all requests for leave as a reasonable accommodation must be granted. For example, where a job is highly specialized, so that it will be difficult to find someone to perform it on a temporary basis, and where the employee cannot provide a date of return, granting leave and holding the position open may constitute undue hardship.
Example: If the Executive Chef at a top restaurant requests leave for treatment of her disability but cannot provide a fixed date of return, the restaurant can show undue hardship because of the difficulty of replacing, even temporarily, a chef of this caliber. Moreover, it leaves the restaurant unable to determine how long it must hold open the position or to plan for the chef’s absence.
Example: A restaurant food server requests 10 to 14 weeks off for disability-related surgery with the date of return depending on the speed of recuperation. The employer must decide whether granting this amount of leave, and doing so without a fixed date of return, would cause an undue hardship.
- Policy Modifications. Modifying a workplace rule because of an employee’s disability may be a form of reasonable accommodation.
Example: A retail store that does not allow its cashiers to drink beverages at the checkout and limits them to two 15 minute breaks per day may need to modify one rule or the other to accommodate an employee with a psychiatric disability who needs to drink a beverage once an hour due to dry mouth, a side effect of some psychiatric medications.
- Modifying Supervisory Methods. Simple modifications of supervisory methods may include communicating assignments in writing rather than orally for someone whose disability limits concentration or providing additional day-to-day guidance or feedback. An employer is not required, however, to change someone’s supervisor.
- Job Coaches. A job coach who assists in training or guiding the performance of a qualified individual with a disability may be a form of reasonable accommodation.
Example: A custodian with mental retardation might have a job coach paid for by an outside agency to initially help, on a full-time basis, the worker learn required tasks and who then, periodically thereafter, returns to help ensure he is performing the job properly.
- Reassignment. Reassignment may be necessary where an employee can no longer perform his or her job because of a disability.
- The employee must be qualified for the new position.
- You do not have to bump another employee, promote an employee with a disability, or create a position for the individual.
- Reassignment should be to a position that is equal in pay and status to the one held or as close as possible if an equivalent position is not vacant.
Example: After being injured, a construction worker can no longer perform his job duties, even with accommodation, due to a resulting disability. He asks you to reassign him as an accommodation to a vacant, higher-paid construction foreman position for which he is qualified. You do not have to offer this reassignment because it would be a promotion.
Example: The host responsible for escorting diners to their seats at one of three restaurants operated by your business can no longer perform the essential functions of her position because a disability requires her to remain mostly sedentary. However, she is qualified to perform the duties of a vacant cashier position, which has the same salary, at one of your other restaurants. You must offer her a reassignment to the cashier position at the other restaurant as a reasonable accommodation.
But: Reassignment is not available to applicants; therefore, you would not have to look for a job for a person with a disability who is not qualified to do the job for which he or she applied, unless you do this for all applicants for other available jobs.
Basic rule: The ADA allows you to ask questions related to disability and even require a medical examination of an employee whose medical condition appears to be causing performance or safety problems.
Direct Threat: You also may reject a job applicant with a disability or terminate an employee with a disability for safety reasons if the person poses a direct threat (i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm to self or others). Employers have legitimate concerns about maintaining a safe workplace for all employees and members of the public and, in some instances, the nature of a particular person’s disability may cause an unacceptable risk of harm.
Practice tip: You must be careful not to exclude a qualified person with a disability based on myths, unsubstantiated fears, or stereotypes about that person’s ability to safely perform the job.
- Assess the particular applicant’s or employee’s present ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job based on objective evidence and reasonable medical judgment.
- Consider the duration of the risk, the nature and severity of the potential harm, the likelihood that the potential harm will occur, and the imminence of the potential harm.
- The determination cannot be based on generalizations about the condition.
Example: You cannot automatically prohibit someone with epilepsy from working around machinery. Some forms of epilepsy are more severe than others or are not well-controlled. On the other hand, some people with epilepsy know when a seizure will occur in time to move away from potentially hazardous situations. Sometimes seizures occur only at night, making the possibility of a seizure on the job remote.
- The determination cannot be based on unfounded fears about the condition.
Example: A restaurant could not deny someone with HIV infection a job handling food based on customers’ fears that the condition could be transmitted, since there is no real risk of transmitting HIV through food handling.
Food safety – A special rule: Under the ADA, the Department of Health and Human Services annually issues a list of the infectious or communicable diseases transmitted through the handling of food. (Copies of the list may be obtained from Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, N.E., Mailstop C09, Atlanta, GA 30333 (404) 639-2213.)
- If an individual with a disability has one of the infectious or communicable diseases included on the list, and if the risk of transmitting the disease associated with the handling of food cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation, an employer can refuse to assign the individual to a job involving food handling.
- If the individual is a current employee, the employer must consider whether the individual can be accommodated, absent undue hardship, by reassignment to a vacant position not involving food handling.
- The harm must be serious and likely to occur, not remote or speculative.
Example: An employer may not reject an applicant who had been treated for major depression but had worked successfully in stressful jobs for several years based on speculation that the stress of the job might trigger a future relapse.
- There must be no reasonable accommodation that would reduce the risk.
Example: A deaf mechanic cannot be denied employment based on the fear that he has a high probability of being injured by vehicles moving in and out of the garage if an accommodation would enable him to perform the job duties with little or no risk, such as allowing him to work in a corner of the garage facing outward so that he can see any moving vehicles.
- Current illegal use of drugs is not protected by the ADA. You do not need to hire or retain someone who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs. Tests for the current illegal use of drugs are permitted at any time prior to or during employment.
- While people with alcoholism may be individuals with disabilities, the ADA still allows employers to hold them to the same performance and conduct standards as all other employees, including rules prohibiting drinking on the job.
Example: An employer may fire an employee who is drinking alcohol while on the job if it has a uniformly applied rule prohibiting such conduct.
But: There may be times when you may have to accommodate an employee with alcoholism. For example, an employer may have to modify a rule prohibiting personal phone calls at work for an employee with alcoholism who periodically has to contact his “AA sponsor,” if the employee has a need to do so during work hours.
Basic rule: A charge means only that someone has alleged that your business discriminated against him/her on a basis that is protected under Federal equal employment opportunity law: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. A charge does not constitute a finding that you did, in fact, discriminate.
- The EEOC will send you a copy of the charge and request a response and supporting documentation. The EEOC may investigate the charge. If it finds reasonable cause to believe that you discriminated against the charging party, it will invite you to conciliate the charge (i.e., the EEOC will offer you a chance to resolve the matter informally). In some cases, where conciliation fails, the EEOC will file a civil court action. If the EEOC finds no discrimination, or if conciliation fails and the EEOC chooses not to file suit, it will issue a notice of a right to sue, which gives the charging party 90 days to file a civil court action.
- For a detailed description of the process, check out the EEOC website, www.eeoc.gov, and click on the link to “Small Business Information,” and then on the link to “When A Charge Is Filed Against My Company.”
- The EEOC notice may offer mediation as a method for dealing with the charge even before it investigates the charge. We encourage you to use this process as a less expensive and time-consuming way of resolving an employment dispute.
Practice tip: EEOC’s mediation program is free. The program is voluntary and all parties must agree to take part. The mediation process also is confidential. Neutral mediators provide employers and charging parties the opportunity to reach mutually agreeable solutions. If the charge filed against your company is eligible for mediation, you will be notified by the EEOC of your opportunity to take part in the mediation process. In the event that mediation does not succeed, the charge is referred for investigation.
- The EEOC notice will caution you that it is unlawful to retaliate against the charging party for filing the charge.
Example: An employee filed a charge against her supervisor alleging disability discrimination, which the employer believed to be without merit. After receiving the charge, the employer told the employee that she would be fired if she filed another meritless charge against it. The employee filed another charge against the employer and she was fired. Even assuming the charges of discrimination were without merit, the employee has a strong claim that the employer unlawfully retaliated against her.
Practice tip: Even if you believe that the charge is frivolous, submit a response to the EEOC and provide the information requested. If the charge was not dismissed by the EEOC when it was received, that means there is some basis for proceeding with further investigation. There are many cases where it is unclear whether discrimination may have occurred and an investigation is necessary. You are encouraged to present any facts that you believe show the allegations are incorrect or do not amount to an ADA violation.(3)
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
ENFORCEMENT GUIDANCE ON DISABILITY-RELATED INQUIRIES AND MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS OF EMPLOYEES UNDER THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA)
Notice Concerning The Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act Of 2008
What does this Guidance address?
- The Guidance explains the ADA’s rules concerning when employers may and may not obtain medical information about their employees.
Why did the EEOC issue this Guidance?
- In October 1995, the EEOC issued enforcement guidance explaining the ADA’s rules concerning when an employer may and may not make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations of applicants. Since that time, we have had many inquiries from EEOC investigators and attorneys in the field, employers, and employees about how the law applies with respect to people who are already working. This Guidance is intended to answer some of the most frequently-asked questions we have received.
To whom does the Guidance apply?
- The Guidance applies to private and to state and local government employers with fifteen or more employees. Federal sector employers are also covered by the Guidance, as the result of the 1992 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act.
- The ADA’s requirements regarding disability-related inquiries and medical examinations apply to all of the employees of a covered employer, whether or not they have disabilities.
Are the rules about when an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations the same for employees and applicants? (Introduction) (For more information about this and other issues discussed in these Questions and Answers, please consult the referenced question numbers from the Guidance.)
- No. The ADA limits an employer’s ability to make disability-related inquiries or require medical examinations at three stages: pre-offer, post-offer, and during employment. The rules concerning disability-related inquiries and medical examinations are different at each stage.
- At the first stage (prior to an offer of employment), an employer may not ask any disability-related questions or require any medical examinations, even if they are related to the job.
- At the second stage (after an applicant is given a conditional job offer, but before he or she starts work), an employer may ask disability-related questions and conduct medical examinations, regardless of whether they are related to the job, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same job category.
- At the third stage (after employment begins), an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity.
What is a “disability-related inquiry”? (Question 1)
- A “disability-related inquiry” is a question that is likely to elicit information about a disability, such as asking employees about: whether they have or ever had a disability; the kinds of prescription medications they are taking; and, the results of any genetic tests they have had.
- Disability-related inquires also include asking an employee’s co-worker, family member, or doctor about the employee’s disability.
- Questions that are not likely to elicit information about a disability are always permitted, and they include asking employees about their general well-being; whether they can perform job functions; and about their current illegal use of drugs.
What is a “medical examination”? (Question 2)
- A “medical examination” is a procedure or test usually given by a health care professional or in a medical setting that seeks information about an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health. Medical examinations include vision tests; blood, urine, and breath analyses; blood pressure screening and cholesterol testing; and diagnostic procedures, such as x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs.
Are there any procedures or tests employers may require that would not be considered medical examinations? (Question 2)
- Yes. There are a number of procedures and tests that employers may require that are not considered medical examinations, including: blood and urine tests to determine the current illegal use of drugs; physical agility and physical fitness tests; and polygraph examinations.
JOB RELATED AND CONSISTENT WITH BUSINESS NECESSITY
When may an employer ask an employee a disability-related question or require an employee to submit to a medical examination? (Question 5)
- Generally, an employer only may seek information about an employee’s medical condition when it is job related and consistent with business necessity. This means that the employer must have a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that:
- an employee will be unable to perform the essential functions his or her job because of a medical condition; or,
- the employee will pose a direct threat because of a medical condition.
- Employers also may obtain medical information about an employee when the employee has requested a reasonable accommodation and his or her disability or need for accommodation is not obvious.
- In addition, employers can obtain medical information about employees when they:
- are required to do so by another federal law or regulation (e.g., DOT medical certification requirements for interstate truck drivers); (Question 21)
- offer voluntary programs aimed at identifying and treating common health problems, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol; (Question 22)
- are undertaking affirmative action because of a federal, state, or local law that requires affirmative action for individuals with disabilities or voluntarily using the information they obtain to benefit individuals with disabilities. (Question 23)
What should an employer do if it learns about an employee’s medical condition from someone else? (Question 6)
- First, the employer should determine whether the information learned is reliable. The employer should consider how well the person providing the information knows the individual, the seriousness of the medical condition, and how the person learned the information.
- The employer should then determine whether the information gives rise to a reasonable belief that the employee in question will be unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job because of the medical condition or will pose a direct threat because of the condition.
- If the information does give rise to such a reasonable belief, then the employer may make disability-related inquiries or require a medical examination as permitted by the Guidance.
May an employer ask all employees what prescription medications they are taking? (Question 8)
- Generally, no. In limited circumstances, however, employers may be able to ask employees in positions affecting public safety about their use of medications that may affect their ability to perform essential functions and thereby result in a direct threat.
- For example, an airline could require pilots to report when they are taking medications that may affect their ability to fly. A fire department, however, could not require employees in administrative positions to report their use of medication because it is unlikely that these employees would pose a direct threat as a result of an inability, or impaired ability, to do their jobs.
What may an employer do if it believes that an employee is having performance problems because of a medical condition, but the employee won’t answer any questions or go to the doctor? (Question 9)
- The employer may discipline the employee for his or her performance problems just as it would any other employee having similar performance problems.
SCOPE AND MANNER OF INQUIRIES AND EXAMINATIONS
May an employer have an employee who is requesting a reasonable accommodation examined by its own health care provider? (Question 11)
- In some instances, yes. If the employer has explained what type of documentation is needed, and the employee fails to provide it or provides insufficient documentation, the employer may require the employee to see a health care professional of the employer’s choice.
- Even where an employee initially provides insufficient documentation, however, the employer should consider asking the employee’s health care provider for additional information before requiring an examination by the employer’s health care professional. This is because an employee’s health care provider frequently is in the best position to provide information about the employee’s limitations.
May an employer have an employee who it reasonably believes will pose a direct threat examined by its own health care provider? (Question 12)
- Yes. This is because the employer is responsible for assessing whether an employee poses a direct threat based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or best objective evidence.
- The health care professional the employer chooses should have expertise in the employee’s specific medical condition and be able to provide medical information that allows the employer to determine the effects of the condition on the employee’s ability to perform his or her job.
- If the employer’s health care professional believes that the employee poses a direct threat, but the employee’s own doctor disagrees, the employer should evaluate the conflicting medical information by considering, for example, the area of expertise of each medical professional; the kind of information each provided; and, whether the information provided is consistent with the employer’s own observations of or knowledge about the employee.
DISABILITY-RELATED INQUIRIES AND MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS RELATED TO LEAVE
May an employer request that an employee provide a doctor’s note or other explanation when the employee has used sick leave? (Question 15)
- Yes. An employer is entitled to know why an employee is requesting sick leave. An employer, therefore, may ask an employee to provide a doctor’s note or other explanation, as long as it has a policy or practice of requiring all employees to do so.
May an employer ask disability-related questions or require a medical examination when an employee who has been on leave for a medical condition wants to return to work? (Question 17)
- Yes, if an employer has a reasonable belief that an employee’s present ability to perform essential functions will be impaired by a medical condition or that he or she will pose a direct threat because of a medical condition.
- Any inquiries or examination, however, must be limited in scope to what is needed to determine whether the employee is able to work.
PERIODIC MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS AND TESTING
May employers require employees to have periodic medical examinations? (Question 18)
- No, with very limited exceptions for employees who work in positions affecting public safety, such as police officers, firefighters, or airline pilots. Even in these limited situations, the examinations must address specific job-related concerns. For example, a police department could periodically conduct vision tests or electrocardiograms because of concerns about conditions that could affect the ability to perform essential job functions and thereby result in a direct threat. A police department could not, however, periodically test its officers to determine whether they are HIV-positive, because a diagnosis of this condition alone would not result in a direct threat.
May employers subject employees to periodic alcohol testing? (Question 19)
- Generally, no. Employers, however, may subject employees who have been in alcohol rehabilitation programs to periodic alcohol testing where the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee will pose a direct threat in absence of such testing.
- In determining whether to subject such an employee to periodic alcohol testing, the employer should consider the safety risks associated with the position the employee holds, the consequences of the employee’s inability or impaired ability to do his or her job, and the reason(s) why the employer believes that the employee will pose a direct threat.
- Of course, an employer may maintain and enforce rules prohibiting employees from being under the influence of alcohol in the workplace and may conduct alcohol testing for this purpose if it has a reasonable belief that an employee has been drinking during work hours.
Leave Policy Tips
- Explain the circumstances under which leave is available, the eligibility requirements for leave, the procedures for requesting leave and the respective responsibilities of the business and the employee during and after the leave period.
- Clarify that you will provide leave to employees who need it for medical or religious reasons, as required by law.
- You may be required to provide medical or religious leave even if you do not have a leave policy, the employee requesting leave has not earned enough leave, or the employee has exhausted her leave:
- You are required to provide employees with leave for medical reasons related to a disability (to attend a doctor’s appointment or to recover from surgery, for example) unless it would be significantly difficult or expensive for your business.
- You are required to provide employees with leave for religious reasons (to attend religious services or to observe a religious holiday, for example) unless it would require more than minimal cost or burden for your business.
- You may be required to provide medical or religious leave even if you do not have a leave policy, the employee requesting leave has not earned enough leave, or the employee has exhausted her leave:
- Consider recommending that a manager meet with the employee requesting leave and the employee’s manager if necessary to clarify the leave request or to solicit other relevant information.
- For example, it may be helpful to discuss the employee’s current workload, upcoming deadlines and temporary transfer of responsibilities.
- Require managers to respond promptly to leave requests.
- If a prompt response is not possible, consider periodically updating the employee on the status of his request.
- To prevent misunderstandings, consider recommending that decisions to modify or deny leave requests be explained to the employee.
- Require that managers keep genetic information or medical information received as a result of a leave request confidential and in a separate medical file.
These tips are based on federal employment discrimination laws. Other laws, such as workers’ compensation laws and family and medical leave laws, may also apply to your business. Federal, state and local government websites may have information about these laws.
Permitting the use of accrued paid leave, or unpaid leave, is a form of reasonable accommodation when necessitated by an employee’s disability.(48) An employer does not have to provide paid leave beyond that which is provided to similarly-situated employees. Employers should allow an employee with a disability to exhaust accrued paid leave first and then provide unpaid leave.(49) For example, if employees get 10 days of paid leave, and an employee with a disability needs 15 days of leave, the employer should allow the individual to use 10 days of paid leave and 5 days of unpaid leave.
An employee with a disability may need leave for a number of reasons related to the disability, including, but not limited to:
- obtaining medical treatment (e.g., surgery, psychotherapy, substance abuse treatment, or dialysis); rehabilitation services; or physical or occupational therapy;
- recuperating from an illness or an episodic manifestation of the disability;
- obtaining repairs on a wheelchair, accessible van, or prosthetic device;
- avoiding temporary adverse conditions in the work environment (for example, an air-conditioning breakdown causing unusually warm temperatures that could seriously harm an employee with multiple sclerosis);
- training a service animal (e.g., a guide dog); or
- receiving training in the use of braille or to learn sign language.
- May an employer apply a “no-fault” leave policy, under which employees are automatically terminated after they have been on leave for a certain period of time, to an employee with a disability who needs leave beyond the set period?
No. If an employee with a disability needs additional unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation, the employer must modify its “no-fault” leave policy to provide the employee with the additional leave, unless it can show that: (1) there is another effective accommodation that would enable the person to perform the essential functions of his/her position, or (2) granting additional leave would cause an undue hardship. Modifying workplace policies, including leave policies, is a form of reasonable accommodation.(50)
- Does an employer have to hold open an employee’s job as a reasonable accommodation?
Yes. An employee with a disability 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.(51)
If an employer cannot hold a position open during the entire leave period without incurring undue hardship, the employer must consider whether it has a vacant, equivalent position for which the employee is qualified and to which the employee can be reassigned to continue his/her leave for a specific period of time and then, at the conclusion of the leave, can be returned to this new position.(52)
Example: An employee needs eight months of leave for treatment and recuperation related to a disability. The employer grants the request, but after four months the employer determines that it can no longer hold open the position for the remaining four months without incurring undue hardship. The employer must consider whether it has a vacant, equivalent position to which the employee can be reassigned for the remaining four months of leave, at the end of which time the employee would return to work in that new position. If an equivalent position is not available, the employer must look for a vacant position at a lower level. Continued leave is not required as a reasonable accommodation if a vacant position at a lower level is also unavailable.
- Can an employer penalize an employee for work missed during leave taken as a reasonable accommodation?
No. To do so would be retaliation for the employee’s use of a reasonable accommodation to which s/he is entitled under the law.(53) Moreover, such punishment would make the leave an ineffective accommodation, thus making an employer liable for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation.(54)
Example A: A salesperson took five months of leave as a reasonable accommodation. The company compares the sales records of all salespeople over a one-year period, and any employee whose sales fall more than 25% below the median sales performance of all employees is automatically terminated. The employer terminates the salesperson because she had fallen below the required performance standard. The company did not consider that the reason for her lower sales performance was her five-month leave of absence; nor did it assess her productivity during the period she did work (i.e., prorate her productivity).
Penalizing the salesperson in this manner constitutes retaliation and a denial of reasonable accommodation.
Example B: Company X is having a reduction-in-force. The company decides that any employee who has missed more than four weeks in the past year will be terminated. An employee took five weeks of leave for treatment of his disability. The company cannot count those five weeks in determining whether to terminate this employee.(55)
- When an employee requests leave as a reasonable accommodation, may an employer provide an accommodation that requires him/her to remain on the job instead?
Yes, if the employer’s reasonable accommodation would be effective and eliminate the need for leave.(56) An employer need not provide an employee’s preferred accommodation as long as the employer provides an effective accommodation.(57) Accordingly, in lieu of providing leave, an employer may provide a reasonable accommodation that requires an employee to remain on the job (e.g., reallocation of marginal functions or temporary transfer) as long as it does not interfere with the employee’s ability to address his/her medical needs. The employer is obligated, however, to restore the employee’s full duties or to return the employee to his/her original position once s/he no longer needs the reasonable accommodation.
Example A: An employee with emphysema requests ten weeks of leave for surgery and recuperation related to his disability. In discussing this request with the employer, the employee states that he could return to work after seven weeks if, during his first three weeks back, he could work part-time and eliminate two marginal functions that require lots of walking. If the employer provides these accommodations, then it can require the employee to return to work after seven weeks.
Example B: An employee’s disability is getting more severe and her doctor recommends surgery to counteract some of the effects. After receiving the employee’s request for leave for the surgery, the employer proposes that it provide certain equipment which it believes will mitigate the effects of the disability and delay the need for leave to get surgery. The employer’s proposed accommodation is not effective because it interferes with the employee’s ability to get medical treatment.
- How should an employer handle leave for an employee covered by both the ADA and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?(58)
An employer should determine an employee’s rights under each statute separately, and then consider whether the two statutes overlap regarding the appropriate actions to take.(59)
Under the ADA, an employee who needs leave related to his/her disability is entitled to such leave if there is no other effective accommodation and the leave will not cause undue hardship. An employer must allow the individual to use any accrued paid leave first, but, if that is insufficient to cover the entire period, then the employer should grant unpaid leave. An employer must continue an employee’s health insurance benefits during his/her leave period only if it does so for other employees in a similar leave status. As for the employee’s position, the ADA requires that the employer hold it open while the employee is on leave unless it can show that doing so causes undue hardship. When the employee is ready to return to work, the employer must allow the individual to return to the same position (assuming that there was no undue hardship in holding it open) if the employee is still qualified (i.e., the employee can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation).
If it is an undue hardship under the ADA to hold open an employee’s position during a period of leave, or an employee is no longer qualified to return to his/her original position, then the employer must reassign the employee (absent undue hardship) to a vacant position for which s/he is qualified.
Under the FMLA, an eligible employee is entitled to a maximum of 12 weeks of leave per 12 month period. The FMLA guarantees the right of the employee to return to the same position or to an equivalent one.(60) An employer must allow the individual to use any accrued paid leave first, but if that is insufficient to cover the entire period, then the employer should grant unpaid leave. The FMLA requires an employer to continue the employee’s health insurance coverage during the leave period, provided the employee pays his/her share of the premiums.
Example A: An employee with an ADA disability needs 13 weeks of leave for treatment related to the disability. The employee is eligible under the FMLA for 12 weeks of leave (the maximum available), so this period of leave constitutes both FMLA leave and a reasonable accommodation. Under the FMLA, the employer could deny the employee the thirteenth week of leave. But, because the employee is also covered under the ADA, the employer cannot deny the request for the thirteenth week of leave unless it can show undue hardship. The employer may consider the impact on its operations caused by the initial 12-week absence, along with other undue hardship factors.(61)
Example B: An employee with an ADA disability has taken 10 weeks of FMLA leave and is preparing to return to work. The employer wants to put her in an equivalent position rather than her original one. Although this is permissible under the FMLA, the ADA requires that the employer return the employee to her original position. Unless the employer can show that this would cause an undue hardship, or that the employee is no longer qualified for her original position (with or without reasonable accommodation), the employer must reinstate the employee to her original position.
Example C: An employee with an ADA disability has taken 12 weeks of FMLA leave. He notifies his employer that he is ready to return to work, but he no longer is able to perform the essential functions of his position or an equivalent position. Under the FMLA, the employer could terminate his employment,(62) but under the ADA the employer must consider whether the employee could perform the essential functions with reasonable accommodation (e.g., additional leave, part-time schedule, job restructuring, or use of specialized equipment). If not, the ADA requires the employer to reassign the employee if there is a vacant position available for which he is qualified, with or without reasonable accommodation, and there is no undue hardship.
- Must an employer allow an employee with a disability to work a modified or part-time schedule as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship?
Yes.(63) A modified schedule may involve adjusting arrival or departure times, providing periodic breaks, altering when certain functions are performed, allowing an employee to use accrued paid leave, or providing additional unpaid leave. An employer must provide a modified or part-time schedule when required as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship, even if it does not provide such schedules for other employees.(64)
Example A: An employee with HIV infection must take medication on a strict schedule. The medication causes extreme nausea about one hour after ingestion, and generally lasts about 45 minutes. The employee asks that he be allowed to take a daily 45-minute break when the nausea occurs. The employer must grant this request absent undue hardship.
For certain positions, the time during which an essential function is performed may be critical. This could affect whether an employer can grant a request to modify an employee’s schedule.(65) Employers should carefully assess whether modifying the hours could significantly disrupt their operations — that is, cause undue hardship — or whether the essential functions may be performed at different times with little or no impact on the operations or the ability of other employees to perform their jobs.
If modifying an employee’s schedule poses an undue hardship, an employer must consider reassignment to a vacant position that would enable the employee to work during the hours requested. (66)
Example B: A day care worker requests that she be allowed to change her hours from 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. because of her disability. The day care center is open from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. and it will still have sufficient coverage at the beginning of the morning if it grants the change in hours. In this situation, the employer must provide the reasonable accommodation.
Example C: An employee works for a morning newspaper, operating the printing presses which run between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Due to her disability, she needs to work in the daytime. The essential function of her position, operating the printing presses, requires that she work at night because the newspaper cannot be printed during the daytime hours. Since the employer cannot modify her hours, it must consider whether it can reassign her to a different position.
- How should an employer handle requests for modified or part-time schedules for an employee covered by both the ADA and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?(67)
An employer should determine an employee’s rights under each statute separately, and then consider whether the two statutes overlap regarding the appropriate actions to take.
Under the ADA, an employee who needs a modified or part-time schedule because of his/her disability is entitled to such a schedule if there is no other effective accommodation and it will not cause undue hardship. If there is undue hardship, the employer must reassign the employee if there is a vacant position for which s/he is qualified and which would allow the employer to grant the modified or part-time schedule (absent undue hardship).(68)An employee receiving a part-time schedule as a reasonable accommodation is entitled only to the benefits, including health insurance, that other part-time employees receive. Thus, if non- disabled part-time workers are not provided with health insurance, then the employer does not have to provide such coverage to an employee with a disability who is given a part-time schedule as a reasonable accommodation.
Under the FMLA, an eligible employee is entitled to take leave intermittently or on a part-time basis, when medically necessary, until s/he has used up the equivalent of 12 workweeks in a 12- month period. When such leave is foreseeable based on planned medical treatment, an employer may require the employee to temporarily transfer (for the duration of the leave) to an available alternative position, with equivalent pay and benefits, for which the employee is qualified and which better suits his/her reduced hours.(69) An employer always must maintain the employee’s existing level of coverage under a group health plan during the period of FMLA leave, provided the employee pays his/her share of the premium.(70)
Example: An employee with an ADA disability requests that she be excused from work one day a week for the next six months because of her disability. If this employee is eligible for a modified schedule under the FMLA, the employer must provide the requested leave under that statute if it is medically necessary, even if the leave would be an undue hardship under the ADA.
- Must an employer allow an employee with a disability to work a modified or part-time schedule as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship?
- Is it a reasonable accommodation to modify a workplace policy?
Yes. It is a reasonable accommodation to modify a workplace policy when necessitated by an individual’s disability-related limitations,(71) absent undue hardship. But, reasonable accommodation only requires that the employer modify the policy for an employee who requires such action because of a disability; therefore, the employer may continue to apply the policy to all other employees.
Example: An employer has a policy prohibiting employees from eating or drinking at their workstations. An employee with insulin-dependent diabetes explains to her employer that she may occasionally take too much insulin and, in order to avoid going into insulin shock, she must immediately eat a candy bar or drink fruit juice. The employee requests permission to keep such food at her workstation and to eat or drink when her insulin level necessitates. The employer must modify its policy to grant this request, absent undue hardship. Similarly, an employer might have to modify a policy to allow an employee with a disability to bring in a small refrigerator, or to use the employer’s refrigerator, to store medication that must be taken during working hours.
Granting an employee time off from work or an adjusted work schedule as a reasonable accommodation may involve modifying leave or attendance procedures or policies. For example, it would be a reasonable accommodation to modify a policy requiring employees to schedule vacation time in advance if an otherwise qualified individual with a disability needed to use accrued vacation time on an unscheduled basis because of disability- related medical problems, barring undue hardship.(72)Furthermore, an employer may be required to provide additional leave to an employee with a disability as a reasonable accommodation in spite of a “no-fault” leave policy, unless the provision of such leave would impose an undue hardship.(73)
In some instances, an employer’s refusal to modify a workplace policy, such as a leave or attendance policy, could constitute disparate treatment as well as a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation. For example, an employer may have a policy requiring employees to notify supervisors before 9:00 a.m. if they are unable to report to work. If an employer would excuse an employee from complying with this policy because of emergency hospitalization due to a car accident, then the employer must do the same thing when the emergency hospitalization is due to a disability.(74)
- Is it a reasonable accommodation to modify a workplace policy?
The ADA specifically lists “reassignment to a vacant position” as a form of reasonable accommodation.(76) This type of reasonable accommodation must be provided to an employee who, because of a disability, can no longer perform the essential functions of his/her current position, with or without reasonable accommodation, unless the employer can show that it would be an undue hardship.(77)
An employee must be “qualified” for the new position. An employee is “qualified” for a position if s/he: (1) satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position, and (2) can perform the essential functions of the new position, with or without reasonable accommodation.(78) The employee does not need to be the best qualified individual for the position in order to obtain it as a reassignment.
There is no obligation for the employer to assist the individual to become qualified. Thus, the employer does not have to provide training so that the employee acquires necessary skills to take a job.(79) The employer, however, would have to provide an employee with a disability who is being reassigned with any training that is normally provided to anyone hired for or transferred to the position.
Example A: An employer is considering reassigning an employee with a disability to a position which requires the ability to speak Spanish in order to perform an essential function. The employee never learned Spanish and wants the employer to send him to a course to learn Spanish. The employer is not required to provide this training as part of the obligation to make a reassignment. Therefore, the employee is not qualified for this position.
Example B: An employer is considering reassigning an employee with a disability to a position in which she will contract for goods and services. The employee is qualified for the position. The employer has its own specialized rules regarding contracting that necessitate training all individuals hired for these positions. In this situation, the employer must provide the employee with this specialized training.
Before considering reassignment as a reasonable accommodation, employers should first consider those accommodations that would enable an employee to remain in his/her current position. Reassignment is the reasonable accommodation of last resort and is required only after it has been determined that: (1) there are no effective accommodations that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her current position, or (2) all other reasonable accommodations would impose an undue hardship.(80) However, if both the employer and the employee voluntarily agree that transfer is preferable to remaining in the current position with some form of reasonable accommodation, then the employer may transfer the employee.
“Vacant” means that the position is available when the employee asks for reasonable accommodation, or that the employer knows that it will become available within a reasonable amount of time. A “reasonable amount of time” should be determined on a case-by-case basis considering relevant facts, such as whether the employer, based on experience, can anticipate that an appropriate position will become vacant within a short period of time.(81) A position is considered vacant even if an employer has posted a notice or announcement seeking applications for that position. The employer does not have to bump an employee from a job in order to create a vacancy; nor does it have to create a new position.(82)
Example C: An employer is seeking a reassignment for an employee with a disability. There are no vacant positions today, but the employer has just learned that another employee resigned and that that position will become vacant in four weeks. The impending vacancy is equivalent to the position currently held by the employee with a disability. If the employee is qualified for that position, the employer must offer it to him.
Example D: An employer is seeking a reassignment for an employee with a disability. There are no vacant positions today, but the employer has just learned that an employee in an equivalent position plans to retire in six months. Although the employer knows that the employee with a disability is qualified for this position, the employer does not have to offer this position to her because six months is beyond a “reasonable amount of time.” (If, six months from now, the employer decides to advertise the position, it must allow the individual to apply for that position and give the application the consideration it deserves.)
The employer must reassign the individual to a vacant position that is equivalent in terms of pay, status, or other relevant factors (e.g., benefits, geographical location) if the employee is qualified for the position. If there is no vacant equivalent position, the employer must reassign the employee to a vacant lower level position for which the individual is qualified. Assuming there is more than one vacancy for which the employee is qualified, the employer must place the individual in the position that comes closest to the employee’s current position in terms of pay, status, etc.(83)If it is unclear which position comes closest, the employer should consult with the employee about his/her preference before determining the position to which the employee will be reassigned. Reassignment does not include giving an employee a promotion. Thus, an employee must compete for any vacant position that would constitute a promotion.
- Is a probationary employee entitled to reassignment?
Employers cannot deny a reassignment to an employee solely because s/he is designated as “probationary.” An employee with a disability is eligible for reassignment to a new position, regardless of whether s/he is considered “probationary,” as long as the employee adequately performed the essential functions of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation, before the need for a reassignment arose.
The longer the period of time in which an employee has adequately performed the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, the more likely it is that reassignment is appropriate if the employee becomes unable to continue performing the essential functions of the current position due to a disability. If, however, the probationary employee has never adequately performed the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, then s/he is not entitled to reassignment because s/he was never “qualified” for the original position. In this situation, the employee is similar to an applicant who applies for a job for which s/he is not qualified, and then requests reassignment. Applicants are not entitled to reassignment.
Example A: An employer designates all new employees as “probationary” for one year. An employee has been working successfully for nine months when she becomes disabled in a car accident. The employee, due to her disability, is unable to continue performing the essential functions of her current position, with or without reasonable accommodation, and seeks a reassignment. She is entitled to a reassignment if there is a vacant position for which she is qualified and it would not pose an undue hardship.
Example B: A probationary employee has been working two weeks, but has been unable to perform the essential functions of the job because of his disability. There are no reasonable accommodations that would permit the individual to perform the essential functions of the position, so the individual requests a reassignment. The employer does not have to provide a reassignment (even if there is a vacant position) because, as it turns out, the individual was never qualified — i.e., the individual was never able to perform the essential functions of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation, for which he was hired.
- Must an employer offer reassignment as a reasonable accommodation if it does not allow any of its employees to transfer from one position to another?
Yes. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, including reassignment, even though they are not available to others. Therefore, an employer who does not normally transfer employees would still have to reassign an employee with a disability, unless it could show that the reassignment caused an undue hardship. And, if an employer has a policy prohibiting transfers, it would have to modify that policy in order to reassign an employee with a disability, unless it could show undue hardship.(84)
- Is an employer’s obligation to offer reassignment to a vacant position limited to those vacancies within an employee’s office, branch, agency, department, facility, personnel system (if the employer has more than a single personnel system), or geographical area?
No. This is true even if the employer has a policy prohibiting transfers from one office, branch, agency, department, facility, personnel system, or geographical area to another. The ADA contains no language limiting the obligation to reassign only to positions within an office, branch, agency, etc.(85) Rather, the extent to which an employer must search for a vacant position will be an issue of undue hardship.(86)If an employee is being reassigned to a different geographical area, the employee must pay for any relocation expenses unless the employer routinely pays such expenses when granting voluntary transfers to other employees.
- Does an employer have to notify an employee with a disability about vacant positions, or is it the employee’s responsibility to learn what jobs are vacant?
The employer is in the best position to know which jobs are vacant or will become vacant within a reasonable period of time.(87) In order to narrow the search for potential vacancies, the employer, as part of the interactive process, should ask the employee about his/her qualifications and interests. Based on this information, the employer is obligated to inform an employee about vacant positions for which s/he may be eligible as a reassignment. However, an employee should assist the employer in identifying appropriate vacancies to the extent that the employee has access to information about them. If the employer does not know whether the employee is qualified for a specific position, the employer can discuss with the employee his/her qualifications.(88)
An employer should proceed as expeditiously as possible in determining whether there are appropriate vacancies. The length of this process will vary depending on how quickly an employer can search for and identify whether an appropriate vacant position exists. For a very small employer, this process may take one day; for other employers this process may take several weeks.(89)When an employer has completed its search, identified whether there are any vacancies (including any positions that will become vacant in a reasonable amount of time), notified the employee of the results, and either offered an appropriate vacancy to the employee or informed him/her that no appropriate vacancies are available, the employer will have fulfilled its obligation.
- Does reassignment mean that the employee is permitted to compete for a vacant position?
No. Reassignment means that the employee gets the vacant position if s/he is qualified for it. Otherwise, reassignment would be of little value and would not be implemented as Congress intended.(90)
- If an employee is reassigned to a lower level position, must an employer maintain his/her salary from the higher level position?
No, unless the employer transfers employees without disabilities to lower level positions and maintains their original salaries.(91)
- Must an employer provide a reassignment if it would violate a seniority system?
Generally, it will be “unreasonable” to reassign an employee with a disability if doing so would violate the rules of a seniority system.(92) This is true both for collectively bargained seniority systems and those unilaterally imposed by management. Seniority systems governing job placement give employees expectations of consistent, uniform treatment expectations that would be undermined if employers had to make the type of individualized, case-by-case assessment required by the reasonable accommodation process.(93)
However, if there are “special circumstances” that “undermine the employees’ expectations of consistent, uniform treatment,” it may be a “reasonable accommodation,” absent undue hardship, to reassign an employee despite the existence of a seniority system. For example, “special circumstances” may exist where an employer retains the right to alter the seniority system unilaterally, and has exercised that right fairly frequently, thereby lowering employee expectations in the seniority system.(94)In this circumstance, one more exception (i.e., providing the reassignment to an employee with a disability) may not make a difference.(95)Alternatively, a seniority system may contain exceptions, such that one more exception is unlikely to matter.(96) Another possibility is that a seniority system might contain procedures for making exceptions, thus suggesting to employees that seniority does not automatically guarantee access to a specific job.
- Is a probationary employee entitled to reassignment?
OTHER REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION ISSUES (97)
- If an employer has provided one reasonable accommodation, does it have to provide additional reasonable accommodations requested by an individual with a disability?
The duty to provide reasonable accommodation is an ongoing one.(98) Certain individuals require only one reasonable accommodation, while others may need more than one. Still others may need one reasonable accommodation for a period of time, and then at a later date, require another type of reasonable accommodation. If an individual requests multiple reasonable accommodations, s/he is entitled only to those accommodations that are necessitated by a disability and that will provide an equal employment opportunity.
An employer must consider each request for reasonable accommodation and determine: (1) whether the accommodation is needed, (2) if needed, whether the accommodation would be effective, and (3) if effective, whether providing the reasonable accommodation would impose an undue hardship. If a reasonable accommodation turns out to be ineffective and the employee with a disability remains unable to perform an essential function, the employer must consider whether there would be an alternative reasonable accommodation that would not pose an undue hardship. If there is no alternative accommodation, then the employer must attempt to reassign the employee to a vacant position for which s/he is qualified, unless to do so would cause an undue hardship.
- Does an employer have to change a person’s supervisor as a form of reasonable accommodation?
No. An employer does not have to provide an employee with a new supervisor as a reasonable accommodation. Nothing in the ADA, however, prohibits an employer from doing so. Furthermore, although an employer is not required to change supervisors, the ADA may require that supervisory methods be altered as a form of reasonable accommodation.(99)Also, an employee with a disability is protected from disability-based discrimination by a supervisor, including disability-based harassment.
Example: A supervisor frequently schedules team meetings on a day’s notice often notifying staff in the afternoon that a meeting will be held on the following morning. An employee with a disability has missed several meetings because they have conflicted with previously-scheduled physical therapy sessions. The employee asks that the supervisor give her two to three days’ notice of team meetings so that, if necessary, she can reschedule the physical therapy sessions. Assuming no undue hardship would result, the supervisor must make this reasonable accommodation.
- Does an employer have to allow an employee with a disability to work at home as a reasonable accommodation?
An employer must modify its policy concerning where work is performed if such a change is needed as a reasonable accommodation, but only if this accommodation would be effective and would not cause an undue hardship.(100)Whether this accommodation is effective will depend on whether the essential functions of the position can be performed at home. There are certain jobs in which the essential functions can only be performed at the work site — e.g., food server, cashier in a store. For such jobs, allowing an employee to work at home is not effective because it does not enable an employee to perform his/her essential functions. Certain considerations may be critical in determining whether a job can be effectively performed at home, including (but not limited to) the employer’s ability to adequately supervise the employee and the employee’s need to work with certain equipment or tools that cannot be replicated at home. In contrast, employees may be able to perform the essential functions of certain types of jobs at home (e.g., telemarketer, proofreader).(101) For these types of jobs, an employer may deny a request to work at home if it can show that another accommodation would be effective or if working at home will cause undue hardship.
- Must an employer withhold discipline or termination of an employee who, because of a disability, violated a conduct rule that is job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity?
No. An employer never has to excuse a violation of a uniformly applied conduct rule that is job-related and consistent with business necessity. This means, for example, that an employer never has to tolerate or excuse violence, threats of violence, stealing, or destruction of property. An employer may discipline an employee with a disability for engaging in such misconduct if it would impose the same discipline on an employee without a disability.
- Must an employer provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability who violated a conduct rule that is job- related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity?
An employer must make reasonable accommodation to enable an otherwise qualified employee with a disability to meet such a conduct standard in the future, barring undue hardship, except where the punishment for the violation is termination.(102)Since reasonable accommodation is always prospective, an employer is not required to excuse past misconduct even if it is the result of the individual’s disability.(103) Possible reasonable accommodations could include adjustments to starting times, specified breaks, and leave if these accommodations will enable an employee to comply with conduct rules.(104)
Example: An employee with major depression is often late for work because of medication side-effects that make him extremely groggy in the morning. His scheduled hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but he arrives at 9:00, 9:30, 10:00, or even 10:30 on any given day. His job responsibilities involve telephone contact with the company’s traveling sales representatives, who depend on him to answer urgent marketing questions and expedite special orders. The employer disciplines him for tardiness, stating that continued failure to arrive promptly during the next month will result in termination of his employment. The individual then explains that he was late because of a disability and needs to work on a later schedule. In this situation, the employer may discipline the employee because he violated a conduct standard addressing tardiness that is job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity. The employer, however, must consider reasonable accommodation, barring undue hardship, to enable this individual to meet this standard in the future. For example, if this individual can serve the company’s sales representatives by regularly working a schedule of 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., a reasonable accommodation would be to modify his schedule so that he is not required to report for work until 10:00 a.m.
- Is it a reasonable accommodation to make sure that an employee takes medication as prescribed?
No. Medication monitoring is not a reasonable accommodation. Employers have no obligation to monitor medication because doing so does not remove a workplace barrier. Similarly, an employer has no responsibility to monitor an employee’s medical treatment or ensure that s/he is receiving appropriate treatment because such treatment does not involve modifying workplace barriers.(105)
It may be a form of reasonable accommodation, however, to give an employee a break in order that s/he may take medication, or to grant leave so that an employee may obtain treatment.
- Is an employer relieved of its obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability who fails to take medication, to obtain medical treatment, or to use an assistive device (such as a hearing aid)?
No. The ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to remove workplace barriers, regardless of what effect medication, other medical treatment, or assistive devices may have on an employee’s ability to perform the job.(106)
However, if an employee with a disability, with or without reasonable accommodation, cannot perform the essential functions of the position or poses a direct threat in the absence of medication, treatment, or an assistive device, then s/he is unqualified.
- Must an employer provide a reasonable accommodation that is needed because of the side effects of medication or treatment related to the disability, or because of symptoms or other medical conditions resulting from the underlying disability?
Yes. The side effects caused by the medication that an employee must take because of the disability are limitations resulting from the disability. Reasonable accommodation extends to all limitations resulting from a disability.
Example A: An employee with cancer undergoes chemotherapy twice a week, which causes her to be quite ill afterwards. The employee requests a modified schedule — leave for the two days a week of chemotherapy. The treatment will last six weeks. Unless it can show undue hardship, the employer must grant this request.
Similarly, any symptoms or related medical conditions resulting from the disability that cause limitations may also require reasonable accommodation.(107)
Example B: An employee, as a result of insulin-dependent diabetes, has developed background retinopathy (a vision impairment). The employee, who already has provided documentation showing his diabetes is a disability, requests a device to enlarge the text on his computer screen. The employer can request documentation that the retinopathy is related to the diabetes but the employee does not have to show that the retinopathy is an independent disability under the ADA. Since the retinopathy is a consequence of the diabetes (an ADA disability), the request must be granted unless undue hardship can be shown.
- Must an employer ask whether a reasonable accommodation is needed when an employee has not asked for one?
Generally, no. As a general rule, the individual with a disability — who has the most knowledge about the need for reasonable accommodation — must inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.(108)
However, an employer should initiate the reasonable accommodation interactive process(109) without being asked if the employer: (1) knows that the employee has a disability, (2) knows, or has reason to know, that the employee is experiencing workplace problems because of the disability, and (3) knows, or has reason to know, that the disability prevents the employee from requesting a reasonable accommodation. If the individual with a disability states that s/he does not need a reasonable accommodation, the employer will have fulfilled its obligation.
Example: An employee with mental retardation delivers messages at a law firm. He frequently mixes up messages for “R. Miller” and “T. Miller.” The employer knows about the disability, suspects that the performance problem is a result of the disability, and knows that this employee is unable to ask for a reasonable accommodation because of his mental retardation. The employer asks the employee about mixing up the two names and asks if it would be helpful to spell the first name of each person. When the employee says that would be better, the employer, as a reasonable accommodation, instructs the receptionist to write the full first name when messages are left for one of the Messrs. Miller.
- May an employer ask whether a reasonable accommodation is needed when an employee with a disability has not asked for one?
An employer may ask an employee with a known disability whether s/he needs a reasonable accommodation when it reasonably believes that the employee may need an accommodation. For example, an employer could ask a deaf employee who is being sent on a business trip if s/he needs reasonable accommodation. Or, if an employer is scheduling a luncheon at a restaurant and is uncertain about what questions it should ask to ensure that the restaurant is accessible for an employee who uses a wheelchair, the employer may first ask the employee. An employer also may ask an employee with a disability who is having performance or conduct problems if s/he needs reasonable accommodation.(110)
- May an employer tell other employees that an individual is receiving a reasonable accommodation when employees ask questions about a coworker with a disability?
No. An employer may not disclose that an employee is receiving a reasonable accommodation because this usually amounts to a disclosure that the individual has a disability. The ADA specifically prohibits the disclosure of medical information except in certain limited situations, which do not include disclosure to coworkers.(111)
An employer may certainly respond to a question from an employee about why a coworker is receiving what is perceived as “different” or “special” treatment by emphasizing its policy of assisting any employee who encounters difficulties in the workplace. The employer also may find it helpful to point out that many of the workplace issues encountered by employees are personal, and that, in these circumstances, it is the employer’s policy to respect employee privacy. An employer may be able to make this point effectively by reassuring the employee asking the question that his/her privacy would similarly be respected if s/he found it necessary to ask the employer for some kind of workplace change for personal reasons.
Since responding to specific coworker questions may be difficult, employers might find it helpful before such questions are raised to provide all employees with information about various laws that require employers to meet certain employee needs (e.g., the ADA and the Family and Medical Leave Act), while also requiring them to protect the privacy of employees. In providing general ADA information to employees, an employer may wish to highlight the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation, including the interactive process and different types of reasonable accommodations, and the statute’s confidentiality protections. Such information could be delivered in orientation materials, employee handbooks, notices accompanying paystubs, and posted flyers. Employers may wish to explore these and other alternatives with unions because they too are bound by the ADA’s confidentiality provisions. Union meetings and bulletin boards may be further avenues for such educational efforts.
As long as there is no coercion by an employer, an employee with a disability may voluntarily choose to disclose to coworkers his/her disability and/or the fact that s/he is receiving a reasonable accommodation.
- If an employer has provided one reasonable accommodation, does it have to provide additional reasonable accommodations requested by an individual with a disability?
UNDUE HARDSHIP ISSUES (112)
An employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that would cause an “undue hardship” to the employer. Generalized conclusions will not suffice to support a claim of undue hardship. Instead, undue hardship must be based on an individualized assessment of current circumstances that show that a specific reasonable accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense.(113) A determination of undue hardship should be based on several factors, including:
- the nature and cost of the accommodation needed;
- the overall financial resources of the facility making the reasonable accommodation; the number of persons employed at this facility; the effect on expenses and resources of the facility;
- the overall financial resources, size, number of employees, and type and location of facilities of the employer (if the facility involved in the reasonable accommodation is part of a larger entity);
- the type of operation of the employer, including the structure and functions of the workforce, the geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility involved in making the accommodation to the employer;
- the impact of the accommodation on the operation of the facility.(114)
The ADA’s legislative history indicates that Congress wanted employers to consider all possible sources of outside funding when assessing whether a particular accommodation would be too costly.(115) Undue hardship is determined based on the net cost to the employer. Thus, an employer should determine whether funding is available from an outside source, such as a state rehabilitation agency, to pay for all or part of the accommodation.(116) In addition, the employer should determine whether it is eligible for certain tax credits or deductions to offset the cost of the accommodation. Also, to the extent that a portion of the cost of an accommodation causes undue hardship, the employer should ask the individual with a disability if s/he will pay the difference.
If an employer determines that one particular reasonable accommodation will cause undue hardship, but a second type of reasonable accommodation will be effective and will not cause an undue hardship, then the employer must provide the second accommodation.
An employer cannot claim undue hardship based on employees’ (or customers’) fears or prejudices toward the individual’s disability.(117) Nor can undue hardship be based on the fact that provision of a reasonable accommodation might have a negative impact on the morale of other employees. Employers, however, may be able to show undue hardship where provision of a reasonable accommodation would be unduly disruptive to other employees’s ability to work.
Example A: An employee with breast cancer is undergoing chemotherapy. As a consequence of the treatment, the employee is subject to fatigue and finds it difficult to keep up with her regular workload. So that she may focus her reduced energy on performing her essential functions, the employer transfers three of her marginal functions to another employee for the duration of the chemotherapy treatments. The second employee is unhappy at being given extra assignments, but the employer determines that the employee can absorb the new assignments with little effect on his ability to perform his own assignments in a timely manner. Since the employer cannot show significant disruption to its operation, there is no undue hardship.(118)
Example B: A convenience store clerk with multiple sclerosis requests that he be allowed to go from working full-time to part- time as a reasonable accommodation because of his disability. The store assigns two clerks per shift, and if the first clerk’s hours are reduced, the second clerk’s workload will increase significantly beyond his ability to handle his responsibilities. The store determines that such an arrangement will result in inadequate coverage to serve customers in a timely manner, keep the shelves stocked, and maintain store security. Thus, the employer can show undue hardship based on the significant disruption to its operations and, therefore, can refuse to reduce the employee’s hours. The employer, however, should explore whether any other reasonable accommodation will assist the store clerk without causing undue hardship.
- Must an employer modify the work hours of an employee with a disability if doing so would prevent other employees from performing their jobs?
No. If the result of modifying one employee’s work hours (or granting leave) is to prevent other employees from doing their jobs, then the significant disruption to the operations of the employer constitutes an undue hardship.
Example A: A crane operator, due to his disability, requests an adjustment in his work schedule so that he starts work at 8:00 a.m. rather than 7:00 a.m., and finishes one hour later in the evening. The crane operator works with three other employees who cannot perform their jobs without the crane operator. As a result, if the employer grants this requested accommodation, it would have to require the other three workers to adjust their hours, find other work for them to do from 7:00 to 8:00, or have the workers do nothing. The ADA does not require the employer to take any of these actions because they all significantly disrupt the operations of the business. Thus, the employer can deny the requested accommodation, but should discuss with the employee if there are other possible accommodations that would not result in undue hardship.
Example B: A computer programmer works with a group of people to develop new software. There are certain tasks that the entire group must perform together, but each person also has individual assignments. It is through habit, not necessity, that they have often worked together first thing in the morning.
The programmer, due to her disability, requests an adjustment in her work schedule so that she works from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. rather than 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. In this situation, the employer could grant the adjustment in hours because it would not significantly disrupt the operations of the business. The effect of the reasonable accommodation would be to alter when the group worked together and when they performed their individual assignments.
- Can an employer deny a request for leave when an employee cannot provide a fixed date of return?
Providing leave to an employee who is unable to provide a fixed date of return is a form of reasonable accommodation. However, if an employer is able to show that the lack of a fixed return date causes an undue hardship, then it can deny the leave. In certain circumstances, undue hardship will derive from the disruption to the operations of the entity that occurs because the employer can neither plan for the employee’s return nor permanently fill the position. If an employee cannot provide a fixed date of return, and an employer determines that it can grant such leave at that time without causing undue hardship, the employer has the right to require, as part of the interactive process, that the employee provide periodic updates on his/her condition and possible date of return. After receiving these updates, employers may reevaluate whether continued leave constitutes an undue hardship.
In certain situations, an employee may be able to provide only an approximate date of return.(119) Treatment and recuperation do not always permit exact timetables. Thus, an employer cannot claim undue hardship solely because an employee can provide only an approximate date of return. In such situations, or in situations in which a return date must be postponed because of unforeseen medical developments, employees should stay in regular communication with their employers to inform them of their progress and discuss, if necessary, the need for continued leave beyond what might have been granted originally.(120)
Example A: An experienced chef at a top restaurant requests leave for treatment of her disability but cannot provide a fixed date of return. The restaurant can show that this request constitutes undue hardship because of the difficulty of replacing, even temporarily, a chef of this caliber. Moreover, it leaves the employer unable to determine how long it must hold open the position or to plan for the chef’s absence. Therefore, the restaurant can deny the request for leave as a reasonable accommodation.
Example B: An employee requests eight weeks of leave for surgery for his disability. The employer grants the request. During surgery, serious complications arise that require a lengthier period of recuperation than originally anticipated, as well as additional surgery. The employee contacts the employer after three weeks of leave to ask for an additional ten to fourteen weeks of leave (i.e., a total of 18 to 22 weeks of leave). The employer must assess whether granting additional leave causes an undue hardship.
- Does a cost-benefit analysis determine whether a reasonable accommodation will cause undue hardship?
No. A cost-benefit analysis assesses the cost of a reasonable accommodation in relation to the perceived benefit to the employer and the employee. Neither the statute nor the legislative history supports a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether a specific accommodation causes an undue hardship.(121) Whether the cost of a reasonable accommodation imposes an undue hardship depends on the employer’s resources, not on the individual’s salary, position, or status (e.g., full-time versus part-time, salary versus hourly wage, permanent versus temporary).
- Can an employer claim undue hardship solely because a reasonable accommodation would require it to make changes to property owned by someone else?
No, an employer cannot claim undue hardship solely because a reasonable accommodation would require it to make changes to property owned by someone else. In some situations, an employer will have the right under a lease or other contractual relationship with the property owner to make the type of changes that are needed. If this is the case, the employer should make the changes, assuming no other factors exist that would make the changes too difficult or costly. If the contractual relationship between the employer and property owner requires the owner’s consent to the kinds of changes that are required, or prohibits them from being made, then the employer must make good faith efforts either to obtain the owner’s permission or to negotiate an exception to the terms of the contract. If the owner refuses to allow the employer to make the modifications, the employer may claim undue hardship. Even in this situation, however, the employer must still provide another reasonable accommodation, if one exists, that would not cause undue hardship.
Example A: X Corp., a travel agency, leases space in a building owned by Z Co. One of X Corp.’s employees becomes disabled and needs to use a wheelchair. The employee requests as a reasonable accommodation that several room dividers be moved to make his work space easily accessible. X Corp.’s lease specifically allows it to make these kinds of physical changes, and they are otherwise easy and inexpensive to make. The fact that X Corp. does not own the property does not create an undue hardship and therefore it must make the requested accommodation.
Example B: Same as Example A, except that X Corp.’s lease requires it to seek Z Co.’s permission before making any physical changes that would involve reconfiguring office space. X Corp. requests that Z Co. allow it to make the changes, but Z Co. denies the request. X Corp. can claim that making the physical changes would constitute an undue hardship. However, it must provide any other type of reasonable accommodation that would not involve making physical changes to the facility, such as finding a different location within the office that would be accessible to the employee.
An employer should remember its obligation to make reasonable accommodation when it is negotiating contracts with property owners.(122) Similarly, a property owner should carefully assess a request from an employer to make physical changes that are needed as a reasonable accommodation because failure to permit the modification might constitute “interference” with the rights of an employee with a disability.(123) In addition, other ADA provisions may require the property owner to make the modifications.(124)
In US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S., 122 S. Ct. 1516 (2002), the Supreme Court laid out the burdens of proof for an individual with a disability (plaintiff) and an employer (defendant) in an ADA lawsuit alleging failure to provide reasonable accommodation. The “plaintiff/employee (to defeat a defendant/employer’s motion for summary judgment) need only show that an ‘accommodation’ seems reasonable on its face, i.e., ordinarily or in the run of cases.”(125) Once the plaintiff has shown that the accommodation s/he needs is “reasonable,” the burden shifts to the defendant/employer to provide case-specific evidence proving that reasonable accommodation would cause an undue hardship in the particular circumstances.(126)
The Supreme Court’s burden-shifting framework does not affect the interactive process triggered by an individual’s request for accommodation.(127) An employer should still engage in this informal dialogue to obtain relevant information needed to make an informed decision.
When assessing whether a Respondent has violated the ADA by denying a reasonable accommodation to a Charging Party, investigators should consider the following:
- Is the Charging Party “otherwise qualified” (i.e., is the Charging Party qualified for the job except that, because of disability, s/he needs a reasonable accommodation to perform the position’s essential functions)?
- Did the Charging Party, or a representative, request a reasonable accommodation (i.e., did the Charging Party let the employer know that s/he needed an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition)? [see Questions 1-4]
- Did the Respondent request documentation of the Charging Party’s disability and/or functional limitations? If yes, was the documentation provided? Did the Respondent have a legitimate reason for requesting documentation? [see Questions 6-8]
- What specific type of reasonable accommodation, if any, did the Charging Party request?
- Was there a nexus between the reasonable accommodation requested and the functional limitations resulting from the Charging Party’s disability? [see Question 6]
- Was the need for reasonable accommodation related to the use of medication, side effects from treatment, or symptoms related to a disability? [see Questions 36-38]
- For what purpose did the Charging Party request a reasonable accommodation:
- for the application process? [see Questions 12-13]
- in connection with aspects of job performance? [see Questions 16-24, 32-33]
- in order to enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment? [see Questions 14-15]
- Should the Respondent have initiated the interactive process, or provided a reasonable accommodation, even if the Charging Party did not ask for an accommodation? [see Questions 11, 39]
- What did the Respondent do in response to the Charging Party’s request for reasonable accommodation (i.e., did the Respondent engage in an interactive process with the Charging Party and if so, describe both the Respondent’s and the Charging Party’s actions/statements during this process)? [see Questions 5-11]
- If the Charging Party asked the Respondent for a particular reasonable accommodation, and the Respondent provided a different accommodation, why did the Respondent provide a different reasonable accommodation than the one requested by the Charging Party? Why does the Respondent believe that the reasonable accommodation it provided was effective in eliminating the workplace barrier at issue, thus providing the Charging Party with an equal employment opportunity? Why does the Charging Party believe that the reasonable accommodation provided by the Respondent was ineffective? [see Question 9]
- What type of accommodation could the Respondent have provided that would have been “reasonable” and effective in eliminating the workplace barrier at issue, thus providing the Charging Party with an equal employment opportunity?
- Does the charge involve allegations concerning reasonable accommodation and violations of any conduct rules? [see Questions 34-35]
- If the Charging Party alleges that the Respondent failed to provide a reassignment as a reasonable accommodation [see generally Questions 25-30 and accompanying text]:
- did the Respondent and the Charging Party first discuss other forms of reasonable accommodation that would enable the Charging Party to remain in his/her current position before discussing reassignment?
- did the Respondent have any vacant positions? [see Question 27]
- did the Respondent notify the Charging Party about possible vacant positions? [see Question 28]
- was the Charging Party qualified for a vacant position?
- if there was more than one vacant position, did the Respondent place the Charging Party in the one that was most closely equivalent to the Charging Party’s original position?
- if the reassignment would conflict with a seniority system, are there “special circumstances” that would make it “reasonable” to reassign the Charging Party? [see Question 31]
- If the Respondent is claiming undue hardship [see generally Questions 42-46 and accompanying text]:
- what evidence has the Respondent produced showing that providing a specific reasonable accommodation would entail significant difficulty or expense?
- if a modified schedule or leave is the reasonable accommodation, is undue hardship based on the impact on the ability of other employees to do their jobs? [see Question 42]
- if leave is the reasonable accommodation, is undue hardship based on the amount of leave requested? [see Question 43]
- if there are “special circumstances” that would make it “reasonable” to reassign the Charging Party, despite the apparent conflict with a seniority system, would it nonetheless be an undue hardship to make the reassignment? [see Question 31]
- is undue hardship based on the fact that providing the reasonable accommodation requires changes to property owned by an entity other than the Respondent? [see Question 46]
- if the Respondent claims that a particular reasonable accommodation would result in undue hardship, is there another reasonable accommodation that Respondent could have provided that would not have resulted in undue hardship?
- Based on the evidence obtained in answers to the questions above, is the Charging Party a qualified individual with a disability (i.e., can the Charging Party perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation)?
APPENDIX RESOURCES FOR LOCATING REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The EEOC’s Publication Center has many free documents on the Title I employment provisions of the ADA, including both the statute, 42 U.S.C. . 12101 et seq. (1994), and the regulations, 29 C.F.R. . 1630 (1997). In addition, the EEOC has published a great deal of basic information about reasonable accommodation and undue hardship. The two main sources of interpretive information are: (1) the Interpretive Guidance accompanying the Title I regulations (also known as the “Appendix” to the regulations), 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. .. 1630.2(o), (p), 1630.9 (1997) , and (2) A Technical Assistance Manual on the Employment Provisions (Title I) of the Americans with Disabilities Act III, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:6981, 6998-7018 (1992). The Manual includes a 200-page Resource Directory, including federal and state agencies, and disability organizations that can provide assistance in identifying and locating reasonable accommodations.
The EEOC also has discussed issues involving reasonable accommodation in the following guidances and documents: (1) Enforcement Guidance: Preemployment Disability-Related Questions and Medical Examinations at 5, 6-8, 20, 21-22, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7191, 7192-94, 7201 (1995); (2) Enforcement Guidance: Workers’ Compensation and the ADA at 15-20, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7391, 7398-7401 (1996); (3) Enforcement Guidance: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities at 19-28, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7461, 7470-76 (1997); and (4) Fact Sheet on the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at 6-9, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7371, 7374-76 (1996).
Finally, the EEOC has a poster that employers and labor unions may use to fulfill the ADA’s posting requirement.
All of the above-listed documents, with the exception of the ADA Technical Assistance Manual and Resource Directory and the poster, are also available through the Internet at https://www.eeoc.gov.
U.S. Department of Labor
(To obtain information on the Family and Medical Leave Act)
To request written materials:
To ask questions: (202) 219-8412 (Voice)
Internal Revenue Service
(For information on tax credits and deductions for providing certain reasonable accommodations)
(202) 622-6060 (Voice)
Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
A service of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. JAN can provide information, free-of-charge, about many types of reasonable accommodations.
ADA Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs) 1-800-949-4232 (Voice/TT)
The DBTACs consist of 10 federally funded regional centers that provide information, training, and technical assistance on the ADA. Each center works with local business, disability, governmental, rehabilitation, and other professional networks to provide current ADA information and assistance, and places special emphasis on meeting the needs of small businesses. The DBTACs can make referrals to local sources of expertise in reasonable accommodations.
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
(301) 608-0050 (Voice/TT)
The Registry offers information on locating and using interpreters and transliteration services.
RESNA Technical Assistance Project
(703) 524-6686 (Voice)
(703) 524-6639 (TT)
RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, can refer individuals to projects in all 50 states and the six territories offering technical assistance on technology-related services for individuals with disabilities. Services may include:
- information and referral centers to help determine what devices may assist a person with a disability (including access to large data bases containing information on thousands of commercially available assistive technology products),
- centers where individuals can try out devices and equipment,
- assistance in obtaining funding for and repairing devices, and
- equipment exchange and recycling programs.
The index applies to the print version. Since page numbering does not exist in HTML files, page numbers have been removed.
Applicants and reasonable accommodation
Attendance and reasonable accommodation
Benefits and privileges of employment and reasonable accommodation
Access to information
Employer-sponsored social functions
Burdens of proof
Choosing between two or more reasonable accommodations
Confidentiality and reasonable accommodation
Disparate treatment (versus reasonable accommodation)
Employees (part-time, full-time, probationary)
Essential functions and reasonable accommodation
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Relationship with the ADA
Firm choice and reasonable accommodation (See also “Last chance agreements”)
Interactive process between employer and individual with a disability to determine reasonable accommodation
Landlord/Tenant and reasonable accommodation
Last chance agreements and reasonable accommodation (See also “Firm choice”)
Marginal functions and reasonable accommodation
Medical treatment and reasonable accommodation
Employer monitoring of medical treatment
Failure to obtain medical treatment
Side effects of medical treatment and need for reasonable accommodation
Medication and reasonable accommodation
Employer monitoring of medication
Failure to use medication
Side effects of medication and need for reasonable accommodation
Personal use items and reasonable accommodation
Production standards and reasonable accommodation
Public accommodation and employer; who provides reasonable accommodation
“Reasonable accommodation” (definition of)
Reasonable accommodation (effectiveness of)
Reasonable accommodation (how many must employer provide)
Reasonable accommodation (types of)
Access to equipment and computer technology
Changing tests and training materials
Alternatives to leave
Approximate versus fixed date of return
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Holding open an employee’s position
“No-fault” leave policies
Penalizing employees who take leave
Marginal functions (modifying how they are performed; elimination or substitution of)
Modified or part-time schedule
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Modifying method of performing job function
Modifying workplace policies
Employee must be qualified for vacant position
Interactive process between employer and employee
Relationship between reassignment and general transfer policies
Salary for new position
Seniority systems and reassignment
When must reassignment be offered
Who is entitled to reassignment
Sign language interpreters
Supervisory methods (changing)
Working at home
Reasonable accommodation (who is entitled to receive)
Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Relationship with the ADA
Relationship and association with a person with a disability
Requests for reasonable accommodation
Choosing between two or more reasonable accommodations
Documentation on the need for reasonable accommodation
How to request reasonable accommodation
Interactive process between employer and individual with a disability
Timing of employer’s response to a request for reasonable accommodation
When should individual with disability request reasonable accommodation
Who may request reasonable accommodation
Right of individual with a disability to refuse reasonable accommodation
Role of health care providers in reasonable accommodation process
Seniority systems and reassignment
State or local antidiscrimination laws; Relationship with the ADA
Supervisors and reasonable accommodation
Disruption to operations
Factors to assess
Work environment and reasonable accommodation
The analysis in this guidance applies to federal sector complaints of non-affirmative action employment discrimination arising under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 29 U.S.C. § 791(g) (1994). It also applies to complaints of non-affirmative action employment discrimination arising under section 503 and employment discrimination under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. 29 U.S.C. §§ 793(d), 794(d) (1994).
The ADA’s requirements regarding reasonable accommodation and undue hardship supercede any state or local disability antidiscrimination laws to the extent that they offer less protection than the ADA. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.1(c)(2) (1997).
2. In addition to employers, the ADA requires employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees to provide reasonable accommodations. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), (b)(5)(A) (1994).
4. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1)(i-iii) (1997) (emphasis added). The notices that employers and labor unions must post informing applicants, employees, and members of labor organizations of their ADA rights must include a description of the reasonable accommodation requirement. These notices, which must be in an accessible format, are available from the EEOC. See the Appendix.
Individuals with a relationship or association with a person with a disability are not entitled to receive reasonable accommodations. See Den Hartog v. Wasatch Academy, 129 F.3d 1076, 1084, 7 AD Cas. (BNA) 764, 772 (10th Cir. 1997).
6. See 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.9 (1997); see also H.R. Rep. No. 101-485, pt. 3, at 39 (1990) [hereinafter House Judiciary Report]; H.R. Rep. No. 101-485, pt. 2, at 65 (1990) [hereinafter House Education and Labor Report]; S. Rep. No. 101-116, at 34 (1989)[hereinafter Senate Report].
For more information concerning requests for a reasonable accommodation, see Questions 1-4, infra. For a discussion of the limited circumstance under which an employer would be required to ask an individual with a disability whether s/he needed a reasonable accommodation, see Question 40, infra.
Some courts have said that in determining whether an accommodation is “reasonable,” one must look at the costs of the accommodation in relation to its benefits. See, e.g., Monette v. Electronic Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1184 n.10, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1326, 1335 n.10 (6th Cir. 1996); Vande Zande v. Wisconsin Dept. of Admin., 44 F.3d 538, 543, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 1636, 1638-39 (7th Cir. 1995). This “cost/benefit” analysis has no foundation in the statute, regulations, or legislative history of the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9), (10) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o), (p) (1997); see also Senate Report, supra note 6, at 31-35; House Education and Labor Report, supra note 6, at 57-58.
10. See US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S., 122 S. Ct. 1516, 1522 (2002). The Court explained that “in ordinary English the word ‘reasonable’ does not mean ‘effective.’ It is the word ‘accommodation,’ not the word ‘reasonable,’ that conveys the need for effectiveness.” Id.
12. In US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, the Supreme Court held that it was unreasonable, absent “special circumstances,” for an employer to provide a reassignment that conflicts with the terms of a seniority system. 535 U.S., 122 S. Ct. 1516, 1524-25 (2002). For a further discussion of this issue, see Question 31, infra.
13. “[W]ith or without reasonable accommodation” includes, if necessary, reassignment to a vacant position. Thus, if an employee is no longer qualified because of a disability to continue in his/her present position, an employer must reassign him/her as a reasonable accommodation. See the section on “Reassignment,” infra pp. 37-38 and n.77.
16. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112 (b)(5)(A) (1994) (it is a form of discrimination to fail to provide a reasonable accommodation “unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship . . .”); see also 42 U.S.C.
§ 12111(10) (1994) (defining “undue hardship” based on factors assessing cost and difficulty).
The legislative history discusses financial, administrative, and operational limitations on providing reasonable accommodations only in the context of defining “undue hardship.” Compare Senate Report, supra note 6, at 31-34 with 35-36; House Education and Labor Report, supra note 6, at 57-58 with 67-70.
18. See 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.15(d) (1997). See also Eckles v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 94 F.3d 1041, 1048-49, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1367, 1372-73 (7th Cir. 1996); Bryant v. Better Business Bureau of Maryland, 923 F. Supp. 720, 740, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 625, 638 (D. Md. 1996).
19. See, e.g., Schmidt v. Safeway Inc., 864 F. Supp. 991, 997, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 1141, 1146-47 (D. Or. 1994) (“statute does not require the plaintiff to speak any magic words. . . The employee need not mention the ADA or even the term ‘accommodation.'”). See also Hendricks-Robinson v. Excel Corp., 154 F.3d 685, 694, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 875, 882 (7th Cir. 1998) (“[a] request as straightforward as asking for continued employment is a sufficient request for accommodation”); Bultemeyer v. Ft. Wayne Community Schs., 100 F.3d 1281, 1285, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 67, 71 (7th Cir. 1996) (an employee with a known psychiatric disability requested reasonable accommodation by stating that he could not do a particular job and by submitting a note from his psychiatrist); McGinnis v. Wonder Chemical Co., 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 219 (E.D. Pa. 1995) (employer on notice that accommodation had been requested because: (1) employee told supervisor that his pain prevented him from working and (2) employee had requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act).
Nothing in the ADA requires an individual to use legal terms or to anticipate all of the possible information an employer may need in order to provide a reasonable accommodation. The ADA avoids a formulistic approach in favor of an interactive discussion between the employer and the individual with a disability, after the individual has requested a change due to a medical condition. Nevertheless, some courts have required that individuals initially provide detailed information in order to trigger the employer’s duty to investigate whether reasonable accommodation is required. See, e.g., Taylor v. Principal Fin. Group, Inc., 93 F.3d 155, 165, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1653, 1660 (5th Cir. 1996); Miller v. Nat’l Cas. Co., 61 F.3d 627, 629-30, 4 AD Cas. (BNA) 1089, 1090-91 (8th Cir. 1995).
21. Cf. Beck v. Univ. of Wis. Bd. of Regents, 75 F.3d 1130, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 304 (7th Cir. 1996); Schmidt v. Safeway Inc., 864 F. Supp. 991, 997, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 1141, 1146 (D. Or. 1994). But see Miller v. Nat’l Casualty Co., 61 F.3d 627, 630, 4 AD Cas. (BNA) 1089, 1091 (8th Cir. 1995) (employer had no duty to investigate reasonable accommodation despite the fact that the employee’s sister notified the employer that the employee “was mentally falling apart and the family was trying to get her into the hospital”).
The employer should be receptive to any relevant information or requests it receives from a third party acting on the individual’s behalf because the reasonable accommodation process presumes open communication in order to help the employer make an informed decision. See 29 C.F.R. §§ 1630.2(o), 1630.9 (1997); 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. §§ 1630.2(o), 1630.9 (1997).
22. Although individuals with disabilities are not required to keep records, they may find it useful to document requests for reasonable accommodation in the event there is a dispute about whether or when they requested accommodation. Employers, however, must keep all employment records, including records of requests for reasonable accommodation, for one year from the making of the record or the personnel action involved, whichever occurs later. If a charge is filed, records must be preserved until the charge is resolved. 29 C.F.R. § 1602.14 (1997).
23. Cf. Masterson v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., Nos. 98-6126, 98-6025, 1998 WL 856143 (10th Cir. Dec. 11, 1998) (fact that an employee with a disability does not need a reasonable accommodation all the time does not relieve employer from providing an accommodation for the period when he does need one).
24. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3) (1997); 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. §§ 1630.2(o), 1630.9 (1997); see also Haschmann v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., 151 F.3d 591, 601, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 692, 700 (7th Cir. 1998); Dalton v. Subaru-Isuzu, 141 F.3d 667, 677, 7 AD Cas. (BNA) 1872, 1880-81 (7th Cir. 1998). The appendix to the regulations at § 1630.9 provides a detailed discussion of the reasonable accommodation process.
Engaging in an interactive process helps employers to discover and provide reasonable accommodation. Moreover, in situations where an employer fails to provide a reasonable accommodation (and undue hardship would not be a valid defense), evidence that the employer engaged in an interactive process can demonstrate a “good faith” effort which can protect an employer from having to pay punitive and certain compensatory damages. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(a)(3) (1994).
25. The burden-shifting framework outlined by the Supreme Court in US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S., 122 S. Ct. 1516, 1523 (2002), does not affect the interactive process between an employer and an individual seeking reasonable accommodation. See pages 61-62, infra, for a further discussion.
27. 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.9 (1997); see also EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Preemployment Disability-Related Questions and Medical Examinations at 6, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7191, 7193 (1995) [hereinafter Preemployment Questions and Medical Examinations]; EEOC Enforcement Guidance: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Psychiatric Disabilities at 22-23, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7461, 7472-73 (1997) [hereinafter ADA and Psychiatric Disabilities]. Although the latter Enforcement Guidance focuses on psychiatric disabilities, the legal standard under which an employer may request documentation applies to disabilities generally.
When an employee seeks leave as a reasonable accommodation, an employer’s request for documentation about disability and the need for leave may overlap with the certification requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.305-.306, 825.310-.311 (1997).
28. Since a doctor cannot disclose information about a patient without his/her permission, an employer must obtain a release from the individual that will permit his/her doctor to answer questions. The release should be clear as to what information will be requested. Employers must maintain the confidentiality of all medical information collected during this process, regardless of where the information comes from. See Question 42 and note 111, infra.
31. See Templeton v. Neodata Servs., Inc., No. 98-1106, 1998 WL 852516 (10th Cir. Dec. 10, 1998); Beck v. Univ. of Wis. Bd. of Regents, 75 F.3d 1130, 1134, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 304, 307 (7th Cir. 1996); McAlpin v. National Semiconductor Corp., 921 F. Supp. 1518, 1525, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1047, 1052 (N.D. Tex. 1996).
33. If an individual provides sufficient documentation to show the existence of an ADA disability and the need for reasonable accommodation, continued efforts by the employer to require that the individual see the employer’s health professional could be considered retaliation.
35. See 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.9 (1997); see also Stewart v. Happy Herman’s Cheshire Bridge, Inc., 117 F.3d 1278, 1285-86, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 1834, 1839 (11th Cir. 1997); Hankins v. The Gap, Inc., 84 F.3d 797, 800, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 924, 926-27 (6th Cir. 1996); Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 95 F.3d 492, 499, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1466, 1471 (7th Cir. 1996).
38. In determining whether there has been an unnecessary delay in responding to a request for reasonable accommodation, relevant factors would include: (1) the reason(s) for the delay, (2) the length of the delay, (3) how much the individual with a disability and the employer each contributed to the delay, (4) what the employer was doing during the delay, and (5) whether the required accommodation was simple or complex to provide.
40. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(2)(A) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.13(a) (1997). For a thorough discussion of these requirements, see Preemployment Questions and Medical Examinations, supra note 27, at 6-8, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7193-94.
The types of reasonable accommodations discussed in this section are not exhaustive. For example, employees with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations to modify the work environment, such as changes to the ventilation system or relocation of a work space.
See the Appendix for additional resources to identify other possible reasonable accommodations.
An employee who needs leave, or a part-time or modified schedule, as a reasonable accommodation also may be entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. See Questions 21 and 23, infra.
50. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)(B) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(2)(ii) (1997). See US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S., 122 S. Ct. 1516, 1521 (2002). See also Question 24, infra. While undue hardship cannot be based solely on the existence of a no-fault leave policy, the employer may be able to show undue hardship based on an individualized assessment showing the disruption to the employer’s operations if additional leave is granted beyond the period allowed by the policy. In determining whether undue hardship exists, the employer should consider how much additional leave is needed (e.g., two weeks, six months, one year?).
52. See EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Workers’ Compensation and the ADA at 16, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7391, 7399 (1996) [hereinafter Workers’ Compensation and the ADA]. See also pp. 37-45, infra, for information on reassignment as a reasonable accommodation.
55. But see Matthews v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 1194, 1197-98, 7 AD Cas. (BNA) 1651, 1653-54 (7th Cir. 1997) (an employee who, because of a heart attack, missed several months of work and returned on a part-time basis until health permitted him to work full-time, could be terminated during a RIF based on his lower productivity). In reaching this decision, the Seventh Circuit failed to consider that the employee needed leave and a modified schedule as reasonable accommodations for his disability, and that the accommodations became meaningless when he was penalized for using them.
56. If an employee, however, qualifies for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, an employer may not require him/her to remain on the job with an adjustment in lieu of taking leave. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.702(d)(1) (1997).
59. Employers should remember that many employees eligible for FMLA leave will not be entitled to leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, either because they do not meet the ADA’s definition of disability or, if they do have an ADA disability, the need for leave is unrelated to that disability.
65. Certain courts have characterized attendance as an “essential function.” See, e.g., Carr v. Reno, 23 F.3d 525, 530, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 434, 438 (D.C. Cir. 1994); Jackson v. Department of Veterans Admin., 22 F.3d 277, 278-79, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 483, 484 (11th Cir. 1994). Attendance, however, is not an essential function as defined by the ADA because it is not one of “the fundamental job duties of the employment position.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(1) (1997) (emphasis added). As the regulations make clear, essential functions are duties to be performed. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(2) (1997). See Haschmann v. Time Warner Entertainment Co., 151 F.3d 591, 602, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 692, 701 (7th Cir. 1998); Cehrs v. Northeast Ohio Alzheimer’s, 155 F.3d 775, 782-83, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 825, 830-31 (6th Cir. 1998).
On the other hand, attendance is relevant to job performance and employers need not grant all requests for a modified schedule. To the contrary, if the time during which an essential function is performed is integral to its successful completion, then an employer may deny a request to modify an employee’s schedule as an undue hardship.
66. Employers covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) should determine whether any denial of leave or a modified schedule is also permissible under that law. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.203 (1997).
68. See infra pp. 37-45 for more information on reassignment, including under what circumstances an employer and employee may voluntarily agree that a transfer is preferable to having the employee remain in his/her current position.
74. But cf. Miller v. Nat’l Casualty Co., 61 F.3d 627, 629-30, 4 AD Cas. (BNA) 1089, 1090 (8th Cir. 1995) (court refuses to find that employee’s sister had requested reasonable accommodation despite the fact that the sister informed the employer that the employee was having a medical crisis necessitating emergency hospitalization).
76. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)(B) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(2)(ii) (1997). See Benson v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 62 F.3d 1108, 1114, 4 AD Cas. (BNA) 1234, 1238 (8th Cir. 1995); Monette v. Electronic Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1187, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1326, 1338 (6th Cir. 1996); Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 95 F.3d 492, 498, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1466, 1471 (7th Cir. 1996).
Reassignment is available only to employees, not to applicants. 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.2(o) (1997).
Some courts have found that an employee who is unable to perform the essential functions of his/her current position is unqualified to receive a reassignment. See, e.g., Schmidt v. Methodist Hosp. of Indiana, Inc., 89 F.3d 342, 345, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1340, 1342 (7th Cir. 1996); Pangalos v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1825, 1826 (E.D. Pa. 1996). These decisions, however, nullify Congress’ inclusion of reassignment in the ADA. An employee requires a reassignment only if s/he is unable to continue performing the essential functions of his/her current position, with or without reasonable accommodation. Thus, an employer must provide reassignment either when reasonable accommodation in an employee’s current job would cause undue hardship or when it would not be possible. See Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr.,156 F.3d 1284, 1300-01, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 1093, 1107-08 (D.C. Cir. 1998); Dalton v. Subaru-Isuzu Automotive, Inc., 141 F.3d 667, 678, 7 AD Cas. (BNA) 1872, 1880 (7th Cir. 1998); see also ADA and Psychiatric Disabilities, supra note 27, at 28, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7476; Workers’ Compensation and the ADA, supra note 52, at 17-18, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7399-7400.
84. See US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S., 122 S. Ct. 1516, 1521, 1524 (2002); see also Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1304-05, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 1093, 1110-11 (D.C. Cir. 1998); United States v. Denver, 943 F. Supp. 1304, 1312, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 245, 252 (D. Colo. 1996). See also Question 24, supra.
85. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)(B) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(2)(ii) (1997); see Hendricks-Robinson v. Excel Corp., 154 F.3d 685, 695, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 875, 883 (7th Cir. 1998); see generally Dalton v. Subaru-Isuzu Automotive, Inc., 141 F.3d 667, 677-78, 7 AD Cas. (BNA) 1872, 1880-81 (7th Cir. 1998).
86. See Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 95 F.3d 492, 499, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1466, 1472 (7th Cir. 1996); see generally United States v. Denver, 943 F. Supp. 1304, 1311-13, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 245, 251-52 (D. Colo. 1996).
Some courts have limited the obligation to provide a reassignment to positions within the same department or facility in which the employee currently works, except when the employer’s standard practice is to provide inter-department or inter-facility transfers for all employees. See, e.g., Emrick v. Libbey-Owens-Ford Co., 875 F. Supp. 393, 398, 4 AD Cas.(BNA) 1, 4-5 (E.D. Tex. 1995). However, the ADA requires modification of workplace policies, such as transfer policies, as a form of reasonable accommodation. See Question 24, supra. Therefore, policies limiting transfers cannot be a per se bar to reassigning someone outside his/her department or facility. \ Furthermore, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, including reassignment, regardless of whether such accommodations are routinely granted to non-disabled employees. See Question 26, supra.
87. See Hendricks-Robinson v. Excel Corp., 154 F.3d 685, 695-96, 697-98, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 875, 883, 884 (7th Cir. 1998) (employer cannot mislead disabled employees who need reassignment about full range of vacant positions; nor can it post vacant positions for such a short period of time that disabled employees on medical leave have no realistic chance to learn about them); Mengine v. Runyon, 114 F.3d 415, 420, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 1530, 1534 (3d Cir. 1997) (an employer has a duty to make reasonable efforts to assist an employee in identifying a vacancy because an employee will not have the ability or resources to identify a vacant position absent participation by the employer); Woodman v. Runyon, 132 F.3d 1330, 1344, 7 AD Cas. (BNA) 1189, 1199 (10th Cir. 1997) (federal employers are far better placed than employees to investigate in good faith the availability of vacant positions).
88. See Dalton v. Subaru-Isuzu Automotive, Inc., 141 F.3d 667, 678, 7 AD Cas. (BNA)1872, 1881 (7th Cir. 1998) (employer must first identify full range of alternative positions and then determine which ones employee qualified to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation); Hendricks-Robinson v. Excel Corp., 154 F.3d 685, 700, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 875, 886-87 (7th Cir. 1998) (employer’s methodology to determine if reassignment is appropriate does not constitute the “interactive process” contemplated by the ADA if it is directive rather than interactive); Mengine v. Runyon, 114 F.3d 415, 419-20, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 1530, 1534 (3d Cir. 1997) (once an employer has identified possible vacancies, an employee has a duty to identify which one he is capable of performing).
89. If it will take several weeks to determine whether an appropriate vacant position exists, the employer and employee should discuss the employee’s status during that period. There are different possibilities depending on the circumstances, but they may include: use of accumulated paid leave, use of unpaid leave, or a temporary assignment to a light duty position. Employers also may choose to take actions that go beyond the ADA’s requirements, such as eliminating an essential function of the employee’s current position, to enable an employee to continue working while a reassignment is sought.
90. 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)(b) (1994); 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.2(o) (1997). See Senate Report, supra note 6, at 31 (“If an employee, because of disability, can no longer perform the essential functions of the job that she or he has held, a transfer to another vacant job for which the person is qualified may prevent the employee from being out of work and the employer from losing a valuable worker.”). See Wood v. County of Alameda, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 173, 184 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (when employee could no longer perform job because of disability, she was entitled to reassignment to a vacant position, not simply an opportunity to “compete”); cf. Aka v. Washington Hosp. Ctr., 156 F.3d 1284, 1304-05, 8 AD Cas. (BNA) 1093, 1110-11 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (the court, in interpreting a collective bargaining agreement provision authorizing reassignment of disabled employees, states that “[a]n employee who is allowed to compete for jobs precisely like any other applicant has not been “reassigned”); United States v. Denver, 943 F. Supp. 1304, 1310-11, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 245, 250 (D. Colo. 1996) (the ADA requires employers to move beyond traditional analysis and consider reassignment as a method of enabling a disabled worker to do a job).
Some courts have suggested that reassignment means simply an opportunity to compete for a vacant position. See, e.g., Daugherty v. City of El Paso, 56 F.3d 695, 700, 4 AD Cas. (BNA) 993, 997 (5th Cir. 1995). Such an interpretation nullifies the clear statutory language stating that reassignment is a form of reasonable accommodation. Even without the ADA, an employee with a disability may have the right to compete for a vacant position.
94. Id. at 1525. In a lawsuit, the plaintiff/employee bears the burden of proof to show the existence of “special circumstances” that warrant a jury’s finding that a reassignment is “reasonable” despite the presence of a seniority system. If an employee can show “special circumstances,” then the burden shifts to the employer to show why the reassignment would pose an undue hardship. See id.
96. Id. The Supreme Court made clear that these two were examples of “special circumstances” and that they did not constitute an exhaustive list of examples. Furthermore, Justice Stevens, in a concurring opinion, raised additional issues that could be relevant to show special circumstances that would make it reasonable for an employer to make an exception to its seniority system. See id. at 1526.
100. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1)(ii), (2)(ii) (1997) (modifications or adjustments to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions).
101. Courts have differed regarding whether “work-at-home” can be a reasonable accommodation. Compare Langon v. Department of Health and Human Servs., 959 F.2d 1053, 1060, 2 AD Cas. (BNA) 152, 159 (D.C. Cir. 1992); Anzalone v. Allstate Insurance Co., 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 455, 458 (E.D. La. 1995); Carr v. Reno, 23 F.3d 525, 530, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 434, 437-38 (D.D.C. 1994), with Vande Zande v. Wisconsin Dep’t of Admin., 44 F.3d 538, 545, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 1636, 1640 (7th Cir. 1995). Courts that have rejected working at home as a reasonable accommodation focus on evidence that personal contact, interaction, and coordination are needed for a specific position. See, e.g., Whillock v. Delta Air Lines, 926 F. Supp. 1555, 1564, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1027 (N.D. Ga. 1995), aff’d, 86 F.3d 1171, 7 AD Cas. (BNA) 1267 (11th Cir. 1996); Misek-Falkoff v. IBM Corp., 854 F. Supp. 215, 227-28, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 449, 457-58 (S.D.N.Y. 1994), aff’d, 60 F.3d 811, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 576 (2d Cir. 1995).
103. See Siefken v. Arlington Heights, 65 F.3d 664, 666, 4 AD Cas. (BNA) 1441, 1442 (7th Cir. 1995). Therefore, it may be in the employee’s interest to request a reasonable accommodation before performance suffers or conduct problems occur. For more information on conduct standards, including when they are job-related and consistent with business necessity, see ADA and Psychiatric Disabilities, supra note 27, at 29-32, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7476-78.
An employer does not have to offer a “firm choice” or a “last chance agreement” to an employee who performs poorly or who has engaged in misconduct because of alcoholism. “Firm choice” or “last chance agreements” involve excusing past performance or conduct problems resulting from alcoholism in exchange for an employee’s receiving substance abuse treatment and refraining from further use of alcohol. Violation of such an agreement generally warrants termination. Since the ADA does not require employers to excuse poor performance or violation of conduct standards that are job-related and consistent with business necessity, an employer has no obligation to provide “firm choice” or a “last chance agreement” as a reasonable accommodation. See Johnson v. Babbitt, EEOC Docket No. 03940100 (March 28, 1996). However, an employer may choose to offer an employee a “firm choice” or a “last chance agreement.”
106. While from an employer’s perspective it may appear that an employee is “failing” to use medication or follow a certain treatment, such questions can be complex. There are many reasons why a person would choose to forgo treatment, including expense and serious side effects.
See, e.g., Taylor v. Principal Fin. Group, Inc., 93 F.3d 155, 165, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1653, 1659 (5th Cir. 1996); Tips v. Regents of Texas Tech Univ., 921 F. Supp. 1515, 1518 (N.D. Tex. 1996); Cheatwood v. Roanoke Indus., 891 F. Supp. 1528, 1538, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 141, 147 (N.D. Ala. 1995); Mears v. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., 905 F. Supp. 1075, 1080, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1295, 1300 (S.D. Ga. 1995), aff’d, 87 F.3d 1331, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 1152 (11th Cir. 1996). But see Schmidt v. Safeway Inc., 864 F. Supp. 991, 997, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 1141, 1146-47 (D. Or. 1994) (employer had obligation to provide reasonable accommodation because it knew of the employee’s alcohol problem and had reason to believe that an accommodation would permit the employee to perform the job).
An employer may not assert that it never received a request for reasonable accommodation, as a defense to a claim of failure to provide reasonable accommodation, if it actively discouraged an individual from making such a request.
For more information about an individual requesting reasonable accommodation, see Questions 1-4, supra.
111. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(3)(B), (d)(4)(C) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(b)(1) (1997). The limited exceptions to the ADA confidentiality requirements are:
(1) supervisors and managers may be told about necessary restrictions on the work or duties of the employee and about necessary accommodations; (2) first aid and safety personnel may be told if the disability might require emergency treatment; and (3) government officials investigating compliance with the ADA must be given relevant information on request. In addition, the Commission has interpreted the ADA to allow employers to disclose medical information in the following circumstances: (1) in accordance with state workers’ compensation laws, employers may disclose information to state workers’ compensation offices, state second injury funds, or workers’ compensation insurance carriers; and (2) employers are permitted to use medical information for insurance purposes. See 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. §1630.14(b) (1997); Preemployment Questions and Medical Examinations, supra note 27, at 23, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7201; Workers’ Compensation and the ADA, supra note 52, at 7, 8 FEP Manual (BNA) 405:7394.
113. See 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. §1630.15(d) (1996); see also Stone v. Mount Vernon, 118 F.3d 92, 101, 6 AD Cas. (BNA) 1685, 1693 (2d Cir. 1997) (an employer who has not hired any persons with disabilities cannot claim undue hardship based on speculation that if it were to hire several people with disabilities it may not have sufficient staff to perform certain tasks); Bryant v. Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland, 923 F. Supp. 720, 735, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 625, 634 (D. Md. 1996).
118. Failure to transfer marginal functions because of its negative impact on the morale of other employees also could constitute disparate treatment when similar morale problems do not stop an employer from reassigning tasks in other situations.
121. The ADA’s definition of undue hardship does not include any consideration of a cost-benefit analysis. See 42 U.S.C. § 12111(10) (1994); see also House Education and Labor Report, supra note 6, at 69 (“[T]he committee wishes to make clear that the fact that an accommodation is used by only one employee should not be used as a negative factor counting in favor of a finding of undue hardship.”).
Furthermore, the House of Representatives rejected a cost-benefit approach by defeating an amendment which would have presumed undue hardship if a reasonable accommodation cost more than 10% of the employee’s annual salary. See 136 Cong. Rec. H2475 (1990), see also House Judiciary Report, supra note 6, at 41; 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.15(d) (1997).
Despite the statutory language and legislative history, some courts have applied a cost-benefit analysis. See, e.g., Monette v. Electronic Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1184 n.10, 5 AD Cas. (BNA) 1326, 1335 n.10 (6th Cir. 1996); Vande Zande v. Wisconsin Dep’t of Admin., 44 F.3d 538, 543, 3 AD Cas. (BNA) 1636, 1638-39 (7th Cir. 1995).
122. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(2) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.6 (1997) (prohibiting an employer from participating in a contractual relationship that has the effect of subjecting qualified applicants or employees with disabilities to discrimination).
124. For example, under Title III of the ADA a private entity that owns a building in which goods and services are offered to the public has an obligation, subject to certain limitations, to remove architectural barriers so that people with disabilities have equal access to these goods and services. 42 U.S.C.
§ 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv) (1994). Thus, the requested modification may be something that the property owner should have done to comply with Title III.