By Kathleen J. Jennings (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The EEOC announced this week that the owner-operator of a Georgia Dollar General store will pay $70,000 and provide other significant relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. This claim arose out of comment that a supervisor made to an applicant for a job. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, on or about Sept. 7, 2015, Terri Mosley applied for a sales associate position at a Portal, Ga., Dollar General store, where she was a frequent shopper. When Mosley appeared for an interview, the store manager refused to interview her, stating, “I didn’t know it was you,” and told Mosley that she could not work at Dollar General “with that arm.” Mosley’s left arm had been injured in an automobile accident two years earlier.
What did the manager do wrong? An employer cannot reject an applicant who has (or appears to have) a disability without making a determination as to whether the applicant can perform the essential duties of the job applied for, with or without reasonable accommodation. A hiring manager cannot simply rely on presumptions or stereotypes about what a disabled applicant can and cannot do.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) places strict limits on employers when it comes to asking job applicants to answer medical questions, take a medical exam, or identify a disability.
For example, an employer may not ask a job applicant to answer medical questions or take a medical exam before extending a job offer. An employer also may not ask job applicants if they have a disability (or about the nature of an obvious disability). An employer may ask job applicants whether they can perform the job and how they would perform the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
After a job is offered to an applicant, the law allows an employer to condition the job offer on the applicant answering certain medical questions or successfully passing a medical exam, but only if all new employees in the same type of job have to answer the questions or take the exam.
Pro Tip: All managers that participate in the hiring process should be trained as to what they can ask applicants and how to lawfully handle disabled applicants. Ideally, there should be a company Human Resources professional available to provide guidance or answer questions about specific situations.
Kathleen J. Jennings is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. She defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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