A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of an employee who worked as a greeter in the Windham outlet. She was fired for what she claims were excused absences, which management claimed were not, related to ongoing symptoms from a work-related injury.
The store hired her first as a cashier in 2013, but she fell at work the following year, injuring her pelvis. After the accident, she took a leave of absence and returned to work as a people greeter for the store. She then a second 18 months later. During her second leave, she accused the company of not accommodating her injury-related disability, which was dismissed. During the time of the lawsuit, she returned to work but missed at least two hours of 12 shifts in two months. Despite her claiming to notify managers if she would miss work, she said a manager screamed at her for not properly reporting her absences. She then claimed she was harassed by management and missed more shifts. Two months later, she was fired.
Misplayed by Walmart?
It is common for employees to get sick and miss work or get injured and file a worker’s compensation claim. However, the employee had long-term health issues related to the medication prescribed to treat the fall. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) protects against discrimination based on disability.
It can be a tremendous imposition to business to have an unfilled job and a burden to fellow employees who may have to pick up the slack; nevertheless, employers cannot dismiss workers protected by EEOC. The employee should notify the employer if they choose to do it, but they are covered either way.
Circuit Court saw it differently
The U.S. District Court granted summary judgment to Walmart in 2020, citing that attendance was a vital part of the job as a people greeter. It also said that the employee was unqualified for the job.
The appeals court saw it differently — the three-judge panel ruled unanimously in favor of the plaintiff, believing that the absences were justified because they are tied to an on-the-job injury, and she had given notice. Along with confirming a valid claim of bias, the court also pointed out that the time between the harassment charge and the dismissal was such that the employee could pursue a retaliation claim.
Employers must be careful
Management and businesses need to be careful how they treat injured employees. Based on the appeals court ruling, it would seem Walmart made several mistakes. The first was not checking to see if dismissing the injured employee was a viable legal option. Other businesses should take note, proceed cautiously and consult with an attorney when dealing with an injured employee. Employees also need to know that they have legal protections if injured on the job.