Circle K case: Don’t defer compliance until it’s too late

By Alysha Phelps
Barran Liebman Law,

This week the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced they have entered into a four-year settlement agreement with Circle K Stores Inc. (Circle K). The investigation and resulting settlement reminds employers of the dangers of legally deficient leave and accommodations policies.

Circle K is a multi-state convenience store operator who allegedly subjected employees to involuntary unpaid leave and a policy requiring employees to be 100% healed to return to work. The EEOC also alleged that Circle K retaliated against and terminated employees as a result of their requests for pregnancy and disability accommodations. The settlement agreement will resolve multiple disability, pregnancy, and retaliation discrimination charges filed against the company over several years.

As a result of the EEOC’s investigation into the charges, Circle K will be forced to pay $8 million, including a class fund to compensate impacted employees who worked for Circle K within the past approximately 13 years. Additionally, Circle K has agreed to update its policies, appoint a coordinator to provide policy oversight and guidance on maintaining records, conduct climate surveys and exit interviews focused in part on the company’s accommodation process, provide anti-discrimination training to all employees and management, and evaluate managers based in part on their compliance with equal employment opportunity laws.

In announcing the agreement, the EEOC called out employers with rigid maximum leave policies that lack flexibility for additional leave to accommodate disability or pregnancy-related needs, noting that those policies were likely to violate federal law. The agency also admonished employers who failed to give employees reassignment to an open position if the employer concludes a reasonable accommodation is not available in their current position.

This EEOC settlement is a stark reminder that employers should carefully draft and administer their leave and accommodation policies. Given recent legal changes, including the rollout of paid family leave in Oregon, now is a great time to review your policies for legal compliance.

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