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Mon Mar. 16th, 2015 PTWWW Legal Alert

Work Restrictions Necessitate Job Restructure?  NOT!

In Nealy v. City of Santa Monica, the plaintiff, Tony Nealy, was a solid waste equipment operator who had sustained injuries to his knee and back.  Nealy underwent multiple surgeries that necessitated several leaves of absence.  Nealy’s physician subsequently authorized him to return to work subject to work restrictions that prevented him from kneeling, bending, stooping, squatting, walking over uneven terrain, running, prolonged standing, climbing, and heavy lifting.  Based on these work restrictions, the City of Santa Monica determined that Nealy could not perform several of the essential job functions of a solid waste equipment operator.  The City further determined that it could not reasonably accommodate Nealy in the position and offered to reassign him to another position.  Nealy applied for another position with the City, but was denied the job because he lacked the required experience.  Nealy then sued the City of Santa Monica under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.  The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the City.  The Court of Appeal agreed that Nealy could not perform many of the essential job functions required of a solid waste equipment operator, and further held that the City was not required to restructure the job position to accommodate Nealy.  The Court of Appeal explained, “FEHA does not obligate the employer to accommodate the employee by excusing him or her from the performance of essential functions.”

Health Care Workers Must Take Second Meal Period

In Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, the Court of Appeal ruled that healthcare employees cannot waive their second meal period when working shifts in excess of 12 hours.  This ruling is contrary to the Industrial Welfare Commission’s Order No. 5-2001, which states that healthcare employees may voluntarily waive their right to their second meal period when working shifts in excess of 8 hours.  In support of its ruling, the Court of Appeal found that the Industrial Welfare Commission lacked the authority to circumvent the California Labor Code, which requires two mandatory meal periods for employees who work more than 12 hours per day.  The Court of Appeal also found that there was no reasonable justification for extending the 8 hour waiver provision in the Industrial Welfare Commission’s order to healthcare employees working longer than 12 hours.

Employee Terminated While On Medical Leave

In Richey v. AutoNation, Inc., the plaintiff, Avery Richey, was an employee of Power Toyota.  Mr. Richey also operated a restaurant.  Richey was placed on medical leave under California’s Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) after injuring his back.  One of Power Toyota’s employment policies, which Richey was provided with upon taking leave, prohibited employees from engaging in outside employment while on medical leave.  However, while Richey was on medical leave, he continued to operate his restaurant.  Power Toyota learned that Richey was operating his restaurant while on medical leave, and upon further investigation of the matter, discovered that Richey was sweeping, bending over, and performing other manual labor at his restaurant.  Power Toyota subsequently terminated Richey for violating their policy prohibiting outside employment while on medical leave.  Richey sued Power Toyota for interfering with his rights under the CFRA and for retaliating against him for taking medical leave.  After arbitration, the arbitrator rejected Richey’s claims and entered an award in favor of Power Toyota.  The arbitrator found that Power Toyota properly terminated Richey for violation its company policy prohibiting outside employment while on medical leave.  The trial court confirmed the arbitrator’s award, but the Court of Appeal vacated the award.  However, California’s Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal had erred in vacating the arbitration award, finding that Power Toyota’s firing of Richey for violating a company policy was a legally sound basis.