Very few of the thousands of employment cases filed every year go to trial, but in a recent case an employee plaintiff not only took her case all the way to trial, but also won.
The employee became disabled during her employment and had to take time off work. When she attempted to return to work with restrictions on how she could work, the company just refused to acknowledge her. She contacted the company, with no response. She sent a certified letter to the company, and still not response. In a blatant violation of its duty to engage in the interactive process and attempt to accommodate a disabled employee so she could come back to work, the company simply chose to ignore her and hope that she went away.
The company’s defense as trial was that it didn’t matter what the company did because the employee was physically unable to do the work at all. Following the law to the letter, the judge recognized that the law doesn’t allow that kind of lazy, one-sided decision-making. Even if the company was right, it was still required by law to communicate with the employee and engage in the interactive process with the employee of attempting to make that determination.
This is a fight employers and employees have too often: if the employer thinks the employee can’t physically do the job, why should the employer bother asking for doctors’ notes or paperwork or go to the effort of meeting and talking with the employee? The answer is simple: because the law absolutely requires it.
The plaintiff in the recent trial recovered $53,608 in wages she lost because of the company’s violation of laws protecting disabled employees and refusal to work with her to see if she could go back to work.