Common sense could save you time, money and a lawsuit

Being unwilling to provide a stool as an accommodation gets a company sued by the EEOC.
Being unwilling to provide a stool as an accommodation gets a company sued by the EEOC.

The old saying is that common sense isn’t so common seems to hold true in many employment discrimination lawsuits. Wouldn’t seem to be common sense to allow an employee to periodically sit for short periods during the day as a reasonable accommodation? Apparently one company didn’t think so.

Fired the employee rather than let her sit occasionally

The EEOC has filed suit against Zale Delaware, Inc. dba Piercing Pagoda, for failing to provide an accommodation and then firing the employee. According to the EEOC announcement the EEOC tried and failed to reach a settlement through the conciliation process but the company refused. So they filed a suit seeking back pay, front pay or reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages for the employee, as well as injunctive relief.
The case involves an employee, Rose Gravel, who ran a kiosk in a North Carolina mall. Employed since 2010 in 2013 she told the company that she suffered from degenerative disc disease and fibromyalgia, which cause chronic pain. She was out on medical leave for a while and then was released to return to work with the provision she had to sit 15 minutes of every hour. Rather than allow her to do that the company fired her instead. They wanted her to stand her entire shift.

Really?

When I first read this I was puzzled, even outraged. My first thought was did the HR person or executive who made this decision stand for their entire work shift? Doubtful! I also have shopped in enough malls and have seen these very carts to know that there are not lines of people waiting for service to the point that the employee would not have a chance to sit down occasionally.  So what is the big deal in providing a stool for an employee? If you have ever stood for eight hours on a concrete floor you know what it can do to your back, knees, and feet. Even someone without any disability would need a break from that.
To me there almost has to be more to the story than just this lapse in common sense, perhaps there is a back story we don’t know. Regardless this lapse in exercising common sense has cost and will continue to cost the company a great deal of money.

The lesson

The lesson in this for everyone is stop and think before you act in a way that is going to be perceived as discriminatory. If a simple accommodation can keep a good employee working and help avoid the perception of discrimination wouldn’t it be a good measure to exercise common sense and provide that simple accommodation? If nothing else put yourself in the employee’s shoes and ask “What would I like the company to do for me?”

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