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UPS will pay $150K to settle claims it fired diabetic employee after he asked for breaks, EEOC says

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Dive Brief:

  • UPS agreed to pay $150,000 to resolve allegations it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate and then firing an employee with diabetes, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Dec. 22. Also, per a three-year consent decree, when UPS receives a request to reasonably accommodate a disability, it must engage in a good faith, interactive process to identify one.
  • The former employee, who worked as a pre-loader at a Jacksonville, Florida, warehouse, has erratic, or brittle, diabetes and wears an insulin pump with a continuous glucose monitor, the EEOC said. He asked an HR supervisor for occasional, less-then-five-minute breaks between loading trailers so he could check his blood sugar and eat or drink something if necessary, according to the allegations. Even though he was able to perform the job’s essential functions, the HR supervisor referred to him as a “liability” due to his disability, the EEOC alleged. After his second day on the job, the HR supervisor fired him, according to the EEOC.
  • The EEOC sued UPS for violating the ADA. In March, a federal district court granted summary judgment to the agency, the EEOC said. UPS denied the allegations but agreed to settle the case to avoid further litigation and stipulated that the terms are fair, according to the consent decree. In addition to monetary relief, UPS agreed to offer to reinstate the employee. Its ADA policy must also ensure the HR department considers reasonable disability accommodation requests, and it must train HR personnel, managers and supervisors on how to properly respond to such requests.

Dive Insight:

The EEOC commended UPS for collaborating with the agency “to resolve the remaining issues” and for its “willingness to address the EEOC’s concerns,” EEOC Regional Attorney Robert Weisberg stated in a release announcing the settlement.

Weisberg previously indicated that employers may not be aware of how common diabetes is. Over 34 million people in the U.S. suffer from the disease, and it is imperative employers provide reasonable accommodations, especially when the accommodation poses no expense and little disruption, he noted in 2021.

Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose or sugar levels that result from the body’s inability to produce and/or use insulin — a hormone that helps glucose enter the body’s cells to give them energy, an EEOC guidance explains. An employee with diabetes needs to eat several times a day to keep their blood sugar levels from dropping too low, the guidance says.

Accommodation requests, such as the one in the UPS case — which would allow an employee with diabetes to take breaks to eat, drink, test their blood sugar and/or take medication — are generally considered reasonable, according to the guidance. It gives the example of a manufacturing plant that requires employees to work eight-hour shifts with just a one-hour break for lunch. In this scenario, the plant could accommodate an employee with diabetes, absent undue hardship, by letting them take two 15-minute breaks each day and make up the time by coming in early or staying late, the guidance suggests.

The consent decree addresses the bottom line: It requires UPS to ensure that HR staff, managers and supervisors understand how to properly respond to a diabetic employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation, including how to assess the request and their role in the interactive process.

The EEOC describes the interactive process as “an informal process to clarify what the individual needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation,” another EEOC guidance explains. Engaging in a good-faith process may protect against liability if the employee is not provided with an accommodation, the guidance adds. On the other hand, a blanket refusal to engage in the process can be evidence of discrimination, experts have said.

The UPS settlement also focuses on two other problem areas: It requires UPS to provide HR staff, managers and supervisors with guidance on how to address concerns about a disabled employee’s ability perform the job, and it requires HR to keep employees advised of the status of their accommodation request.

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