Employee Melange and Your Business
Two cases recently were announced by the EEOC regarding employment issues. Seems appropriate considering the the name of the organization: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Many small business owners may not think that employment issues will have an impact on their business. They may only hire family or people that they know through family. Yet even family, or like family, may have issues that need to be handled in legally appropriate ways.
The first case involves a major hospital that denied a religious accommodation request for a sincerely-held religious belief. Religion is not just Christianity and comes in many forms and ways of being practiced, even within the faith of Christianity. What may seem to be normal and appropriate for hospital procedures may be against an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs. The issue seemed to be obvious to the hospital. Flu vaccinations prevent an outbreak in a hospital where there are many patients with compromised immune systems. Yet this particular employee had limited exposure to patients and other employees and was granted a religious exemption on more than one previous occasion. Accommodations are appropriate where they are not unduly burdensome on the employer. Everyone has a right to make a living and a right to practice their religious beliefs. Accommodations like requiring the employee to double-mask to prevent exposure and limiting interaction with other employees that have interaction with patients with compromised immune systems would seemingly be an appropriate accommodation for a hospital, especially when there has been no cause for concern in previous years.
Another case involved an individual with a disability. Disabilities come in many forms and not all are established at birth. On the Voluntary Disability disclosure form, stating that you have a disability can be current or in the past. Disabilities range from physical disabilities to mental/psychological disabilities; anything that prevents a worker from performing their job to the same level as another non-disabled employee. Many times, one cannot determine that a worker has a disability and the worker is not required to disclose that they have one. The determining factor is whether the employee is, though disabled, able to perform the essential elements of the job without unduly burdensome accommodations on the part of the employer. In this case, the employee had a long tenure with the business without issue. A new owner took over the business and subsequently terminated the employee with a disability. The employee was on the spectrum. There are employees that perform well and can interact well on the spectrum or with any other disability. The services provided to them are for that purpose; to help them live a respectable life and earn a living through their disability. As a result of the new owner's actions, they are paying a large settlement to that employee.
As a small business owner, you will run into employment law issues. Those issues are not limited to large corporations. The EEOC gives guidance for small business owners regarding accommodations for individuals living through disabilities. You can find the information here. Before making a decision that will result in a large payout to the employee, speak with an attorney, preferably me, to develop a plan to determine whether accommodations would be unreasonable for your business (because accommodations are based on what the business can provide) and how to handle issues with employees with a disability.