A former produce department worker sued his grocery store employer for disability discrimination. He alleges the employer terminated him because of anxiety he developed after a black widow spider bit him at work when he was working in the produce section. The bite caused temporary paralysis to his arm. He had to be hospitalized and received several hand therapy treatments.
The plaintiff's physician cleared him to return to work on September 12, 2017. However, the plaintiff was too anxious to work in produce because he had "debilitating anxiety and panic attacks just thinking about coming across another black widow spider."
The worker allegedly requested and was granted a later shift but became anxious and called in sick. The plaintiff said that he then requested a transfer to a different department but alleges he did not receive a response.
The employer sent the produce worker a termination letter listing "job abandonment" as the cause on September 22, 2017.
The plaintiff alleges that the employer failed to accommodate his disability by allowing him to work in another department. He is suing for lost wages, damages, and attorney's fees and costs. Brianna Kudisch "Worker files suit claiming Whole Foods fired him after he was bitten by spider hiding in produce" nj.com (Aug. 17, 2019).
Commentary and Checklist
The claims made in the lawsuit are just allegations to be proven at trial, but they do highlight some potential risks in hiring staff as a family employer. Physical risks exist around any family home or estate; i.e., a groundskeeper could cut his or her leg while edging (or be bit by a spider or snake); a nanny could trip and fall while running after your children; a cook could cut a finger; or a housekeeper could inhale toxic fumes.
If a staff member is injured on the job, you must protect the injured staff against the following: retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim or asking for an accommodation; refusing to provide reasonable accommodation; or taking negative employment actions because of a disability.
Encourage staff to report all injuries immediately. Confer with counsel or follow your procedures for addressing injuries, returning to work, and offering accommodations.
Failure to reasonably accommodate a disability that results from a worker's compensation injury could potentially be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and worker's compensation retaliation.