Coca-Cola bottles beverages that are popular with Houston residents. It employs thousands of people across the country, and it has faced persistent problems with discrimination against workers with disabilities. The company settled with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August, pledging to pay $2.25 million to resolve nine different disability discrimination cases relating to its failure to accommodate disabled workers. In addition, the company also agreed to update its procedures and policies for accommodations.
The allegedly discriminatory policies of Coca-Cola are not unique to the soda manufacturer. The EEOC has been particularly concerned about policies that require employees to be “100 percent healed” in order to return to their jobs from medical leave. The agency says that these policies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that employers provide necessary accommodations so that employees can work. These types of reasonable accommodations include exemptions from policies, removal of extraneous functions or reassignment to other duties.
The EEOC also pursued similar claims against Nevada Restaurant Services, which paid $3.5 million in its own settlement and agreed to hire a consultant on ADA issues. Since the agency issued a guidance in 2016 and identified the issue as a top enforcement priority, litigation has become more common. The agency emphasized that the employer should ask returning employees about the restrictions and how long they will need accommodation, rather than preventing workers from returning to the job. If the worker can perform the essential functions of the job with accommodations, these options should be explored.
Workers with disabilities face striking amounts of discrimination, from difficulties in getting hired in the first place to inappropriate leave policies that deny needed accommodations. Disabled workers who have been discriminated against can work with an employment lawyer to protect their jobs and potentially seek compensation from an employer violating Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.