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How Not To Handle An Accomodation Request in California

Published by on November 4, 2010

In an administrative action brought by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) concluded that Avis Budget Group (Avis) made unlawful inquires about an employee’s disabilities, failed to engage in the interactive process, denied reasonable accommodations, discriminated on the basis of disability, and failed to take reasonable […]

In an administrative action brought by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) concluded that Avis Budget Group (Avis) made unlawful inquires about an employee’s disabilities, failed to engage in the interactive process, denied reasonable accommodations, discriminated on the basis of disability, and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  The opinion is an HR primer on how not to handle an accommodation request in California.  More after the break.

Complainant was employed as a full-time customer service representative for Avis at the San Francisco airport.  In 2001, Complainant was diagnosed with major depression and post traumatic stress disorder.  As part of her medical treatment, Complainant’s doctor concluded in June 2001 that her work hours should be reduced from eight to six hours per day for two months.  Based on a note from Complainant’s doctor, Avis agreed to the reduced work schedule.  In August 2001, Complainant returned to working an eight-hour day.  Avis again allowed Complainant to work a reduced six-hour work day for two or three-month periods in 2002, 2003, and 2005 based solely on notes from her doctor.    

In June 2006, Complainant again requested that she be scheduled to work six-hour shifts as an accommodation for her mental disability.  The doctor’s note provided by Complainant stated that the accommodation would be required for one year.   

In response, Avis immediately placed Complainant on an unpaid leave of absence to consider her request for a six-hour day.  Ten days later, Avis requested that Complainant provide specific information from her doctor regarding her medical condition.  Complainant returned the requested doctor’s documentation, but she declined to authorize Avis’ personnel to view her medical records or to speak with her doctor directly.  Avis decided the doctor’s documentation was inadequate, and requested that either she release her medical records or submit to an Avis-selected physician for evaluation.  Approximately five months after beginning her leave, Complainant was evaluated by Avis’ medical doctor who agreed with the opinion of Complainant’s doctor.  Avis accepted the opinion and agreed to grant an accommodation.  Upon her return to work, Complainant was told that she was going to be scheduled to work only four-hour shifts for four days per week due to Avis’ business needs.  Due to the 16-hour work week, Complainant was considered a “part-time” employee pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement applicable to her employment.  As a “part-time” employee, Avis selected Complainant for layoff in December 2006. 

FEHC concluded that forcing Complainant to take a five-month involuntarily unpaid leave and then returning her to a 16-hour work week was not a reasonable accommodation and was discriminatory.  FEHC also found that Avis failed to engage in the interactive process due to the delay of Avis’ Human Resources personnel in communicating with Complainant.  Additionally, Avis made unlawful inquiries about Complainant’s disabilities when it initially required her to release her medical file or to allow Avis access to her doctor.  Avis also violated FEHA when it did not allow Complainant’s doctor to answer Avis’ further questions before insisting that Complainant submit to an independent medical evaluation.

As a result of Avis’ violations, FEHC ordered an award of $89,863.70 (including $14,863.70 in back pay and $50,000 in emotional distress damages to Complainant; and $25,000 in administrative fine to the General Fund), plus affirmative relief of postings and training for management personnel regarding reasonable accommodation.

For a full copy of the FEHC’s decision, please click here.

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