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Coca-Cola unit to pay disabled workers, improve disability leave policy

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A Coca-Cola Co. unit will pay $2.25 million and improve its disability leave practices policy under an agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC said Thursday.

The EEOC said in its statement the settlement resolves nine charges that Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Refreshments USA Inc., which distributes Coca-Cola products, had failed to properly accommodate employees with disabilities.

In addition to paying $2.25 million to individuals who had filed discrimination charges, the company agreed to provide annual financial support to selected nonprofit entities dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities find and keep employment, the EEOC said.

As part of the agreement, Coca-Cola Refreshments will also update its policies and procedures to improve accommodations provided to employees who return to work after disability-related absences, the EEOC said. It will also establish a dedicated accommodation and leave management team to provide assistance to its employees.

“This is a strong agreement that will improve policies and practices for individuals with disabilities and sets an example for many employers to follow,” Victoria A. Lipnic, acting EEOC chair, said in the statement.

Brian Sasadu, senior vice president of human resources for Coca-Cola Refreshments USA Inc., said in a statement included in the EEOC announcement, “One of our guiding principles as an organization is to treat everyone with respect and fairness and create an inclusive work environment that values the contributions of everyone. We are pleased that we have been able to work collaboratively with the EEOC to strengthen our disability leave policies to reflect best practices from inside and outside our business system.”

In 2016, the EEOC said it had issued a document on disability leave in response to a “troubling trend” evident in Americans with Disabilities Act-related claims of employer policies that deny or unlawfully restrict the use of disability leave as a reasonable accommodation.