Too few salon owners understand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), who it covers, and how their refusal to provide reasonable accommodation to covered employees can seriously cost them.
I’m going to break all this down for you in the least boring way possible.
What is the ADA?
The ADA is a collection of laws designed to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities, provide enforceable standards for addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities, to involve the federal government in enforcing the standards established by the Act on behalf of people with disabilities, and to invoke congressional authority (including power to enforce the 14th amendment and regulate commerce) in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced by people with disabilities.
Who is protected by the ADA?
On a federal level, the ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities, whether they’re job applicants or employees. These disabilities may be physical or psychological.
What is a “qualified individual?”
A qualified individual is one who possesses the requisite training, licenses/certificates, and capability to perform a job. If an employee/applicant can’t meet a qualification standard because of a disability, the ADA requires the employer demonstrate the importance of the standard by showing that it’s “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” If the employer can’t demonstrate that, they generally cannot use the standard to take any adverse actions against disabled individuals.
How does the ADA protect disabled individuals?
The ADA requires employers provide “reasonable accommodation” to enable disabled individuals to meet a qualification standard that is job-related and consistent with business necessity. When employers discriminate against an individual with a disability, the EEOC may fight the employer in defense of the individual whose rights have been violated.
What is a “reasonable accommodation?”
A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or work process that allows a disabled applicant/employee to perform the job function and enjoy equal employment opportunities. Employers never have to provide accommodations that would cause undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense), which includes removing an essential function of the job.
The Regis Case
Regis gets sued a lot, which isn’t surprising since it’s such a massive company. In this instance, we’re discussing this particular lawsuit.
Recently, in Midland, Texas, SmartStyle (the Walmart-based chain owned by Regis Corporation) paid $60,000 in liquidated damages and back pay to settle an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit. The suit was filed by stylist Nora Jacquez, who suffers from severe claustrophobia. Jacquez requested to work at an end station because working between two stylists increased the potential for her episodic anxiety attacks.
Initially, the manager of the Midland SmartStyle location assigned her to a station that suited her, but decided to move her later to an unsuitable station. Jacquez repeatedly requested to be moved to her original spot, but according to the EEOC press release “Regis” (code for “the ignorant salon manager,” because corporate knows better than to deny reasonable accommodation) refused.
Unsurprisingly, Jacquez had a panic attack that resulted in a visit to the ER.
Additionally, Jacquez reported that when she requested two months off from work to undergo medical treatment, the company failed to provide her with the necessary FMLA paperwork to facilitate that leave, and instead fired her.
Obviously, this constituted a violation of the ADA.
Jacquez was fired not because she was unqualified to do her job, but because the manager, for some unknown (but probably petty) reason, decided to stop reasonably accommodating her disability and refused to meet their obligations under the FMLA. Providing accommodation for Jacquez would not have impeded or impaired the business in any way. It would have cost them absolutely nothing.
In addition to the $60,000 paid to Jacquez, Regis now conducts annual ADA training for the district leader, all salon managers, and all stylists at all Regis salons in Midland, Odessa, and Big Spring. Regis also posts notices regarding disability discrimination that outline the reporting procedure for employees who believe they have been discriminated against on the job.
I want to make it clear, again, that I fully believe these failures were not the fault of Regis Corporation itself, but of the salon manager. The EEOC report seems to conclude that was the case as well.
“…our investigation closed in on what amounted to intolerance by management.”
-EEOC Regional Attorney, Robert A. Canino
The corporate entity itself, in my opinion, can only really be faulted if they failed to properly train the manager or provide her with the information necessary to make informed judgments regarding medical leave or reasonable accommodation. Since I’ve worked in Regis-owned salons, I find that impossible to believe, as Regis provides adequate management training and posts all notices as required by law. That being said, just because they can’t be faulted for the manager’s independent failures in judgement doesn’t mean they can’t be held legally responsible for them.
If you view the EEOC’s Newsroom posts, you’ll find that employers–not the employees–are held responsible for discrimination and other abuses. Training your employees is absolutely critical. Zero-tolerance company rules against discrimination and abusive behavior should be spelled out in your employee handbooks.
The Jamison Shaw Case
In March of 2015, Jamison Shaw, Inc. (an Atlanta-based salon) paid $27,500 to settle a disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. In March 2012, stylist Chiquita Cheek requested an accommodation because of her scoliosis. Specifically, she asked for a mat to stand on, to help alleviate the pain in her back.
The employer allegedly refused to grant the accommodation. Cheek complained that she was being discriminated against and claimed she was immediately terminated after making the complaint.
I frequently receive complaints from stylists in similar positions, who complain that their salon owners refuse to provide floor mats. Salon owners, stop this bullshit. You know what a floor mat would have cost Jamison Shaw? Anywhere from $30-50. Instead, they’re paying $27,500 for not fulfilling a disabled employee’s entirely reasonable, common sense request, plus legal fees for a lawsuit they could easily have avoided.
ALL OF YOU SHOULD BE PROVIDING FLOOR MATS FOR YOUR STYLISTS, WHETHER THEY HAVE SPINAL PROBLEMS OR NOT, especially if you’re not providing health insurance.
I can’t tell you guys how many times I’ve heard from professionals who complain that their employers refuse to purchase floor mats because “they’re ugly.” That’s the most absurd, childish thing I’ve ever heard. Take care of your workers, please. Ergonomics matter. If you want that employee to be with you ten or fifteen years from now, do your part to reduce the likelihood that they’ll end up with shoulder, spine, or wrist problems. Some of these solutions may not be pretty, but they’re affordable and well worth the investment.
What should I do if I’ve been discriminated against due to my disability?
File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice online. For more information about your rights under the ADA, click here to read an article by FindLaw.
How do I protect myself from a discrimination suit as an employer?
Take complaints seriously. An employee/applicant doesn’t have to outright name the ADA or speak the words “reasonable accommodation” for their complaint to be considered a request for reasonable accommodation.
- If an employee complains of spinal pain and asks for a mat, provide one.
- If an employee complains of knee pain and asks for a cutting stool, buy them one.
- If an employee asks for a more open station because they’re claustrophobic, move them to one.
- If an employee has a mental illness and needs time off for counseling, grant it.
- If a diabetic employee asks if she can keep a juice box in her station “just in case,” let her.
Accommodating a reasonable request isn’t difficult or expensive in most cases. In our industry, accommodating a disability is usually as simple as dropping your macho posturing and “what I say goes” attitude and showing concern for the people you employ.
It frustrates me when I have to explain to salon owners that empathy is a necessary trait for leadership because I feel like I’m speaking to my young children. “Would you like it if you were fired for having a spinal problem? How would it make you feel if the employer you work so hard for decided they’d rather not have you around at all than purchase a cheap floor mat to ease your pain?”
Protecting yourself from a discrimination suit is simple: Don’t be an asshole.
If you’re concerned that the accommodation isn’t quite “reasonable,” call an attorney for guidance.
I hope you found this post helpful! Have you been discriminated against or sued for discrimination? Tell us about your experience and what you learned in the comments. If you’re interested, you can buy my book, The Beauty Industry Survival Guide here.
I am currently on Workers Comp. I was told by my employer that they can not accommodate my sore hand. It became sore from all of the blow outs and lead to exasperate osteoarthritis in my thumb joint. I am able to do everything but perming anymore (which many stylists don’t do-including the owners due to smell), and I can blow dry and style but not do blowouts, and I can shampoo, but not massage vigorously during a shampoo. I was told that they cannot accommodate me, but I know that minor accommodations would not be a hardship to those business since I was a key player. Any advice would be great.
You should consider talking to an attorney with a specialization in employee rights–specifically, accommodation requests and EEO complaints. While the activities you can no longer do could be argued to constitute “necessary job duties,” I’d argue that the accommodation would require little more than having an assistant or one of the other professionals handle those tasks for you. I don’t think they have much room to argue that an accommodation, in your instance, would impose an undue expense or hardship for the business.