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California Court of Appeal Determines that Allowing Employee to Adjust Work Schedule to Care for a Disabled Child is a Reasonable Accommodation

Published by on June 14, 2016

In another example of the ever-broadening scope of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal recently held that employers have a duty under FEHA to provide reasonable accommodations to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person who needs the employee’s assistance.  

In Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., the plaintiff, a truck driver, sued his former employer, alleging disability discrimination, failure to prevent discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

Prior to being hired, the plaintiff informed his employer that his son, a minor child, required daily dialysis, which only plaintiff could administer, and that he would have to finish his shift at a certain time in order to care for his son,.

Initially the employer scheduled the plaintiff for morning shifts so that he could finish in time to get home to his son. In 2013, however, a new supervisor changed the plaintiff’s schedule to a later shift and refused to schedule the plaintiff for the earlier shift despite the plaintiff’s complaints. Ultimately the supervisor fired the plaintiff, telling him that he “had quit by choosing not to take the assigned shift.”

The trial court granted the employer’s summary judgment motion, finding that the plaintiff had provided insufficient evidence to show that the employer’s decision to terminate him was motivated by his association with his disabled son or in retaliation for his complaints about his schedule change.

The Court of Appeal reversed, stating that “[t]he very definition of a physical disability…includes a perception…that the person is associated with a person ‘who has, or is perceived to have’ a physical disability.” Thus, the Court determined that FEHA prohibits discrimination based on a person’s association with a person who is disabled.

Welter Insight:

Although the decision will likely be appealed to the California Supreme Court, for now the opinion is binding and employers should carefully consider an employee’s or applicant’s request for accommodation to care for a disabled family member. Each request should be considered on a case-by-case basis and employers should engage in the interactive process in good faith to determine if the requested accommodation can be permitted.

Image Credit: David Amsler (Flickr @ Creative Commons)

 

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