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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability, unless doing so would trigger significant operational difficulties or expenses for the employer. Employees on leave for a disability may request reasonable accommodations in order to return to work. The employee may make the request, or the request may be outlined in a doctor’s note releasing the employee to return to work with certain restrictions.

When an employer becomes aware of an employee’s need for a possible accommodation, it is the duty of the employer to discuss the accommodation needs with the employee. Employers run afoul of the ADA when they impose “100% healed or recovered” policies. These policies refer to a practice mandating an employee be released to work without any restrictions before she may return to work. For example, if an employee is on medical leave for a surgery to address a disability and the employee’s physician releases her to work with a 20-pound lifting restriction, the employer cannot refuse to allow the employee to return to work with the lifting restriction if the employee’s essential functions do not require lifting 20 pounds. To do so would violate the ADA.

In May 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance entitled “Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Since issuing that guidance, the EEOC has been targeting employers with 100% Healed Policies. Recently, the EEOC set its sights on Corizon Health Inc., and Corizon LLC, (Corizon), nationwide health care companies that operate in Phoenix, Arizona.

On September 19, 2018, the EEOC filed suit against Corizon in the District of Arizona. The EEOC suit alleges Corizon violated federal law by discriminating against employees with a 100% healed policy. The EEOC states Corizon required employees with disabilities to be 100% healed or to be without any medical restrictions before they were allowed to return to work. The EEOC states this practice is a clear violation of the ADA.

The EEOC’s Phoenix Office, in filing this suit, has made clear it is committed to challenging 100% healed policies. Elizabeth Cadle, District Director of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, stated in a press release,

Author: Ashley Petefish

“Employers should never have 100% return to work policies that require employees to have no medical restrictions. That policy tells employees that the company will not provide reasonable accommodations for employees with medical restrictions.”

 

What does this mean for Arizona employers?

If you are an Arizona employer with a 100% healed policy, you should contact legal counsel immediately to discuss policy revisions. While the ADA does not require employers to return every employee to work after medical leave, the law may prohibit automatic denials based on broad 100% healed requirements. Employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure their policies support a case-by-case analysis of employee accommodation requests. If you have a 100% healed policy, or have questions or concerns about your current accommodation and equal employment policies, contact the Milligan Lawless attorney with whom you usually work.