An agriculture retailer in Mississippi was found to have violated federal law when it fired an employee with a medical condition related to his back. This is according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Details of the Case
The EEOC lawsuit claims that the employee was a driver and warehouse worker at Agri-AFC’s facility in Poplarville. The employee, a military veteran, suffered a back injury during his service. When his district manager learned that the employee was taking medication to manage this injury, the company demanded a list of all the medications the employee was using. The employee complied and provided the list. The company considered him to be a liability, and within a few days, they fired him.
The EEOC claims that Agri-AFC’s alleged conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and when an attempt at a pre-litigation agreement failed, the EEOC filed their suit. The ADA also acts to protect individual privacy when it comes to medical information which could make company inquiries into the medication regiment of an employee a prohibited offense, depending on the context. Either way, the ADA protects against companies making assumptions about the impact of medications on job safety and performance and reserves the determination of such things for medical professionals.
Discriminatory Company Policies
Employers are responsible for keeping their workforce safe, but they’re also responsible for creating a company culture and company policies that do not overextend and violate the agency of individuals. Sometimes it may seem that keeping employees safe and operating within federal guidelines are conflicting and mutually exclusive concepts.
Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office cautioned that “employers should remember that the ADA provides protections to many applicants and employees who take prescription medication and limits the rights of employers to inquire about such use.” She went on to say that ” the ADA prohibits employers from taking action against such individuals based on assumptions or fears that they will be liabilities instead of assets.”
Reminder for Employers
While it could be considered understandable that employers who hire individuals to operate vehicles or warehouse machinery would want to vet their employees for liability and safety risks, the ADA protects those employees against the company from making those decisions on their behalf.
Ensuring that company policies align with federal law is an important task for employers. Furthermore, ensuring all managers are trained on those policies and laws can help decrease the frequency of situations where district or regional managers are operating in what they believe to be the best interest of the company only to bring about legal consequences. While proper precautions should be taken, especially in warehouse settings, to ensure the safety of everyone, employers should know the limits on what actions they’re allowed to take.
If you feel you may be experiencing discrimination at work based on a disability or other reason we have some tips that may be able to help. No one should lose their job while taking care of their medical conditions. Review our strategies for handling workplace discrimination.