The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 substantively changed workplace rules in ways that required employers to adapt a variety of hiring and return-to-work practices in order to maintain compliance.
Now 20 years later, the ADA has been amended and the implications for workers’ compensation self-insurers are significant. At issue is that ADA 2.0 will impose several new restrictions on how return-to-work programs can be structured.
The new final regulations are expected to be released this spring, but in anticipation of this expanded regulatory reach some self-insured employers have already felt the sting.
Over the past the year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been quietly adding nearly 300 investigators to enforce ADA requirements. Most recently, they have been targeting larger companies (generally self-insured) to determine if their return-to-work programs are ADA 2.0 compliant.
This is a fundamental change in EEOC’s historical approach of investigating claims made by specific employees. In other words, the EEOC is now essentially conducting on-site “audits” to determine possible ADA 2.0 violations.
Companies are already starting to pay big fines as part of negotiated settlements as the EEOC flexes its muscles in advance of the release of final regulations – proactive enforcement, indeed.
For example, late last year Sears settled an EEOC complaint for $6 million in connection with its employee absence policy that was deemed to improperty accommodate disabled workers. United Airlines recently paid more than $600,000 for a policy that refused the allow returning workers with disabilities to work reduced hour shifts.
With the EEOC investigative staffing ramp up, it’s clear that audit and enforcement efforts will pick up significantly this year and likely entangle many workers’ compensation self-insurers with carefully structured return-to-work programs.
The good news is that there are ways that employers can make sure they are ADA 2.0 compliant and we’ll report on that in the coming months.
In the meantime, the march of big government continues.