Question: Your employee has a heart attack and wants to return to work sooner than you think he should. There’s nothing wrong with giving the employee additional time off or terminating the employee if you think the job will impede the employee’s recovery or cause another heart attack, right? Wrong! Baldwin Supply Company, a Minnesota distributor, recently learned this lesson the hard way by paying $50,000 under a consent decree resolving its former employee’s claim of disability discrimination.
The facts of the case are straightforward. According to the Complaint the EEOC filed on the employee’s behalf (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baldwin Supply Co., Civil Action No. 0:14-cv-02138), Timothy Collins worked for Baldwin Supply Company as a laborer installing conveyor belts. He had a heart attack, and his doctor subsequently released him to return to work without any restrictions. When Collins notified Baldwin that he was ready to return to work, Baldwin only allowed him to return for two days, presumably because the employer believed Collins’s job as a laborer was detrimental to his health. Baldwin then terminated Collins’s employment. Baldwin denied the EEOC’s allegations.
Though Baldwin Supply Company probably had good intentions, it ran afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s prohibition of discrimination based on an employee’s perceived disabilities if it refused to allow Collins to return to work full-time after he had a heart attack, even though Collins’s doctor cleared him to return to work with no restrictions.
The moral of the story is that the road to a costly lawsuit can be paved with good intentions.