Do you have a dress code? Does it require employees to wear shoes? What if an employee asked to wear sneakers as an accommodation for a disability? What if instead of permitting alternative footwear, the employer laid off the employee and then refused to re-hire? A recent settlement with the EEOC establishes that refusing to permit an employee to wear athletic shoes to work and terminating the employee when they complain will get an employer sued for violating the ADA (and in this case cost the employer $309,000).
In EEOC v. CBHC, the employer permitted an employee to wear athletic shoes to work after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis which caused numbness, pain and tingling in her feet. A few years later, the employer disciplined the employee for wearing sneakers and when the employee complained that wearing sneakers was necessary to accommodate her disability, the employer laid her off, and then refused to rehire her when she applied for a vacant position she had performed for a majority of her 23 years of employment. The EEOC sued the employer for failure to accommodate and retaliation, ultimately the employer settled the case for $309,000.
The news release does not discuss whether the employer raised the defense of undue hardship in response to the employee’s accommodation. Perhaps because there are only limited circumstances when a deviation from dress code will impose an undue burden on an employer.