(August 19, 2015) In 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new regulations governing the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The regulations “greatly broaden the definition of “disability” under the ADAAA, making clear that to “substantially” limit a major life activity, an impairment need not be “significantly” or “severely” limiting, as was previously established by Supreme Court precedent.” The list of impairments expanded to include diabetes. The list did not say diabetes but this condition will almost always be found to substantially limit the major life activity as defined in the EEOC regulations under ADAAA.
In 2013, USPS agreed to adhere to provisions by the EEOC regarding reasonable accommodation of diabetic employees. USPS said it would comply with all regulations, rulings and interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and EEOC regulations regarding reasonable accommodation requests. Also see EEOC Questions and Answers About Diabetes in the Workplace and Americans with Diabetes Act (ADA)
But the EEO case below shows not all postal officials got the memo on approving ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ for diabetic postal employees or to refrain from harassing postal employees based on their disability.
EEOC finds USPS Improperly Denied Reasonable Accommodation for Diabetic Postal Employee and Disability Based Harassment (headline created by PostalReporter.com and not EEOC)
A Part-Time Flexible Letter Carrier (PTF) with diabetes filed an EEO claiming USPS denied him reasonable accommodation and created a hostile work environment on the basis of his disability. The PTF stated that he could perform all of the duties of his position as long as his glucose readings were not fluctuating. The PTF explained his medical needs to his Supervisor, but she routinely called him back to work or disciplined him if he left early when he requested leave to get his glucose under control. The PTF’s requests that he not be required to provide medical documentation for each incident were also denied.
The PTF’s supervisor constantly questioned him about his breaks, made comments about his disability to other employees, and made disparaging remarks about “slowing down” which directly related to his disability. The PTF’s disability was exacerbated by the stress that came from fear of discipline and constant questioning and requests for additional documentation from his supervisor.
The EEOC found that the PTF failed to prove disparate treatment discrimination with regard to several alleged incidents. But EEOC concluded that USPS failed to provide the PTF with reasonable accommodation, and subjected him to disability related harassment.
The EEOC found that USPS failed to recognize and act on the PTF’s requests for reasonable accommodation. To successfully request reasonable accommodation, an employee is not required to use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” An employee must, however, show a connection between the disabling condition and the accommodation.
The EEO found that PTF’s requests for an eight hour work limitation, leave to get his glucose under control, and to not have to provide medical documentation for each incident when he needed to leave due to his disability were sufficient to qualify as requests for reasonable accommodation. The PTF provided the necessary documentation and explanations to establish that his requests were related to his medical condition. By calling the PTF back to work, questioning him about breaks, and requiring an unreasonable amount of medical documentation, the PTF’s Supervisor effectively denied him reasonable accommodation. While the Supervisor stated that the PTF could have stopped working after eight hours, the EEOC found that assertion was not supported by the record which showed that he was subjected to several investigative interviews and disciplinary actions. Thus, the EEOC concluded that USPS failed to provide PTF with reasonable accommodation.
The EEOC also found that the Agency subjected PTF to a hostile work environment based on his disability. In addition, the Supervisor’s repeatedly assigning PTF tasks outside of his medical restrictions, commenting on his speed, mentioning his disability around other co-workers, questioning him about breaks and time off were related to his disability. The EEOC stated that the Supervisor generally failed to provide any information to support her version of the events alleged, and the record supported PTF’s assertions regarding the incidents. Given that the “Supervisor’s actions culminated in a tangible employment action” that is the denial of reasonable accommodation, the EEOC concluded that USPS was liable for the harassment.
USPS was ordered, among other things, to expunge any disciplinary actions found to have been in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, and investigate PTF’s claim for damages.