The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against employees or applicants because of their relationship or association with a disabled person. For example, an employer could not refuse to hire an applicant with a disabled spouse because of fear that the disabled dependant would negatively affect its group medical insurance premiums. However, as pointed out earlier this month in a decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the ADA does not require employers to accommodate employees with disabled family members.
In Magnus v. St. Mark United Methodist Church, a former church secretary alleged that she was terminated after refusing to work weekends due to obligations to care for her mentally disabled daughter. The plaintiff claimed that the termination was based on the church's fear that she would be distracted at work due to her family care obligations. The Seventh Circuit rejected this claim, noting that the plaintiff's previous promotion after the church became aware of her family situation countered her argument that the termination decision was based on fear of distraction.
The court stated that the plaintiff's actual complaint was based on the requirement for weekend work. ADA regulations make clear that employers are not required to provide accommodation for employees' care of disabled family members, and that such employees may be disciplined or discharged for work rule violations caused by such care obligations, as long as such rules are applied uniformly and neutrally.
Although unclear from this case, the church may not have had enough employees to be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act. For FMLA-covered employers, that law may provide employees with family care obligations leave rights that exceed those provided under the ADA.