The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against Adecco USA, Inc. (Adecco), an employment agency, claiming that it violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (CRA), when the agency decided not to consider a qualified job applicant based on his disability. Employers and employment agencies can only factor disability into account for employment purposes in very specific and limited ways. This post discusses the details of the case and important takeaways for employers and those involved in the hiring process.
Trying to Get Hired
The complaint submitted by the EEOC alleged that in April of 2016, a worker applied at Adecco for a food packaging and distribution job with one of its client companies. The worker has reading and other mental disabilities. The lawsuit claims that the worker was told that he would have to take an employment test that involved reading. The worker informed Adecco that he had trouble with reading comprehension and asked for someone to read the test to him. Adecco initially refused to accommodate the request, which resulted in the worker failing the test for employment. Subsequently, Adecco agreed to have an Adecco employee read the test to the worker, and he passed the test. As a result of the successful completion of the employment test, the worker was qualified for placement in the production facility he applied for, as well as other production, manufacturing, and light industrial positions. However, instead of getting an offer for a job in the field he wanted to work in and was qualified for, the worker was informed by Adecco staff that he was “too slow” for the production job. Adecco offered him an alternative position washing cars. EEOC argues that Adecco violated the disabled worker’s rights under the ADA and CRA by denying him a job that he was qualified to do because of his perceived and actual disabilities.
Legal Claims About Disability
Here the EEOC alleges that Adecco violated several federal laws that protect the rights of disabled workers, including the ADA and the CRA. Both the ADA and CRA prohibit discrimination against a qualified individual based on disability. In this case, the EEOC claims that Adecco limited the worker in a way that adversely affected the job opportunities he was qualified for based on his disability, that the methods and criteria used by Adecco had the effect of discrimination based on disability, and that Adecco used an employment test meant to screen out people with disabilities that were not job-related.
Takeaways for Employers
While the case has yet to be decided, there are a few important takeaways from the pending litigation.
1. What are the essential functions of the job? Disability-related decisions must be work-related. In other words, a worker’s disability is only relevant to the degree that he or she is unable to execute essential functions of the job. If a worker’s disability prevents him or her from doing the job, then it is relevant to an employment decision. In this case, reading did not appear to be an essential function of the job applied for.
2. Engage in an interactive discussion about accommodations. Under the ADA employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified workers with disabilities if that would enable them to carry out the functions of the job, unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. If a disabled worker has the skills, experience, or other requirements of a position and can perform all the essential functions of a job, then he or she is a qualified worker. If a qualified disabled worker meets the requirements for the job but may also need some type of accommodation, it is incumbent upon the employer to consider reasonable accommodation for the worker in the job. This duty is limited only by the level of hardship it may impose upon the employer.
3. Make the employee application process accessible to people. Being uncooperative with the worker during the application process, by not letting someone read him the test, really got things off to a bad start.
ADA compliance is a complex area of employment law, with both EEOC guidance and case law. An employer who has questions regarding a specific situation may wish to consult legal counsel to assess compliance with the ADA and determine best steps moving forward—before making unfortunate decisions.