Avoiding lawsuits is as simple as a little bit of training

If someone says “I can’t carry the vacuum” don’t automatically fire them!

An office cleaning company found out that just providing supervisors with a little bit of training would have been a much cheaper solution than paying a $16,000 settlement because of discrimination.

Scoliosis gets in the way

According to the EEOC a Michigan based company that provides corporate cleaning services will pay $16,000 to settle disability discrimination lawsuit. The EEOC says that an employee with scoliosis (Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty) was hired to be on a cleaning crew. He was hired as a cleaner and assigned to trash maintenance. About nine months later his supervisor told him he was going to be assigned to vacuum duty and would be required to wear a backpack style vacuum. The employee informed the supervisor that he could not wear that backpack due to his scoliosis.

The wrong response

The correct response on the part of the supervisor would have been to ask “How might you be able to perform this new job?” Instead the supervisor issued a disciplinary write-up against the employee for refusing to perform an assigned task, and removed him from the worksite by confiscating his badge. The employee was not allowed to return to the worksite; nor was he reassigned to another location. Big mistake! According to the EEOC “This alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of disabilities.”

The remedy

According to the press release:

The consent decree settling the suit, in addition to providing for the award of monetary relief to [the employee], prohibits any similar discrimination in the future and requires New Image to distribute its policies on equal employment opportunity and non-discrimination to all its employees. New Image must also train its supervisors and human resources representatives on disability discrimination and reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

So in addition to the $16,000 the company is now going to pay to train everyone. Plus their reputation has now been tarnished in the public press.

A simpler solution

It seems to me that companies would be able to avoid much of the problems they have by providing training to supervisors before they take on the supervisory job duties. Supervision is more than directing work. It also requires judgment about delicate people decisions. Supervisors are really the front-line HR managers. Companies don’t get sued on the actions of the HR manager; they get sued on the actions of supervisors and managers. To prevent these types of errors being made companies should undertake basic HR 101 classes to prepare supervisors on how to deal with a situation where an employee with scoliosis tells you they cannot carry a heavy backpack. Even if all they are taught is to contact HR, who should know what to do. Unfortunately, in many companies HR is also untrained.
Well now they are all going to be trained for the price of $16,000. I could have provided the training much cheaper than that.

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