The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought suit on behalf of a Walgreens employee who was fired after taking and eating a bag of chips without paying. The employee claimed she planned to pay for the chips at the cosmetics counter, but when she did not see a cashier, she simply went back to stocking items and never paid. The employee argued her behavior should have been excused because she took the bag of chips to eat when her blood sugar was low and she needed to eat to avoid a medical emergency.
In this instance, the employee claims Walgreens knew of her disability and was required to accommodate her under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities unless doing so would amount to a hardship for the employer. Here, Walgreens long ago engaged in the interactive process with this long-term employee and provided her multiple accommodations to aid her in controlling her diabetes at work. These accommodations included allowing her to eat candy she kept with her whenever she felt her blood sugar dropping, allowing her to store her insulin in the break room refrigerator, and offering her additional breaks during the course of her shift to test her blood sugar or to eat.
Despite the fact that Walgreens did provide accommodations to its employee, and fired her for stealing, the EEOC filed suit for disability discrimination and Walgreens settled the case for $180,000. The terms of the settlement agreement required Walgreens to post a revised policy regarding accommodating disabled employees on its employee intranet site. In addition, the company must provide anti-discrimination training, make periodic reports to the EEOC, and post a notice regarding the decree for three years.
To reduce the risk of similar suits in their companies, employers should train supervisors as to their obligations toward employees claiming to need accommodations and ensure policies regarding employee misconduct are clear and uniform.
If you have any questions about fulfilling your obligations under the ADA or about supervisor training, please contact any of the attorneys at Royal LLP at (413) 586-2288.