The scenario: A female staffer told her supervisor that she was starting to lose her senses of taste and smell. A few days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus, so she asked her boss to let her take leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
The leave request was denied, and the woman was terminated, allegedly because she wasn’t a good fit.
Legal challenge: The woman sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), arguing that she was dismissed because she had COVID-19.
The employer asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that COVID-19 doesn’t qualify as a disability under the ADA because it’s a transitory and minor illness.
The ruling: The company lost. The court refused to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge decided that COVID-19 could be considered a disability.
The court first observed that the sickness caused by the coronavirus is neither transitory nor minor. For one thing, noted the judge, some people who contract the illness suffer symptoms for quite some time – the so-called long-haulers.
In addition, an illness that has killed more than 700,000 people in the U.S. could hardly be considered minor, decided the court.
The skinny: While the legal landscape surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic changes all the time, this is a significant ruling because it establishes for the first time that the condition could be classified as a disability under the ADA.
That’s why you should allow workers who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus to take time off to recover. And don’t terminate a crew member because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Cite: Matias v. Terrapin House, Inc., U.S. District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania, No. 5:21-cv-02288, 9/16/21.
(From the Oct. 22, 2021, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)