Walmart pays $70K to resolve allegations it kept worker with disability on leave for three years

Dive Brief:

  • Walmart agreed to pay $70,000 and offer a job to an employee with disabilities who allegedly was not allowed to use a store electric cart to move around and who was placed on “indefinite unpaid leave” for three years, according to a Thursday news release from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 
  • While the South Carolina-based Walmart store initially allowed the worker to use the cart, it allegedly revoked the reasonable accommodation after seven months. The move followed the transfer of a new HR representative to the store, according to the August 2022 complaint. The new HR rep told the worker the carts were for customer use only, and he would need to file an accommodation request. He was then told he could not perform the job’s essential functions and was placed on unpaid leave. 
  • Per the consent decree, in addition to paying the worker $70,000 and offering him a job, the South Carolina Walmart store is enjoined from denying reasonable accommodations to workers with walking and standing disabilities and from removing existing reasonable accommodations without finding an alternative. The store must also conduct annual training for managers and HR on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Dive Insight:

While employers are not obligated to stick to an agreed-upon accommodation forever, they are responsible for engaging in an interactive process with the employee who requested the accommodation to try to find a suitable alternative if they want to remove it, according to Lisa Mathess, an ADA specialist who has written for the Job Accommodation Network. 

The issue of accommodation revocation has been especially relevant in the last few years with respect to workers being called back to the office. The EEOC clarified last May that employers could not automatically revoke reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19 in the wake of the federal government sunsetting the pandemic’s “public health emergency” status. 

Among examples like noise-canceling headphones, alternative lighting and uninterrupted work time, the EEOC also included telework to address disabilities like fatigue resulting from long COVID.

Employers are increasingly facing lawsuits after forcing employees back to the office, and many of these are related to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, The Wall Street Journal reported last fall. 

When addressing reasonable accommodations, experts in the ADA emphasize the protective aspects of the interactive process and understanding the high bar for undue hardship