A U.S. branch of a large South Korean corporation has come under scrutiny recently after it was sued for laying off an employee who was suffering an illness.
Even in the past, several businesses within L.A. Koreatown faced legal consequences after parting ways with employees with detrimental health conditions.
The most exemplifying case was in 2014 when a larger Korean-American supermarket in Rosemead, Calif. abruptly fired a female employee who was suffering from a physical illness. The employee ultimately won the lawsuit over a jury trial, which decided that the supermarket must pay $720,000 in compensation to the victim for discrimination.
From business owners’ perspective, the grey area between protecting the employee and making a cold-hearted decision seems more difficult to deal with than it is.
“We’ve had problems at our restaurant in the past when our server had some physical problems,” said a business owner in L.A. “I am curious to find out if firing an employee over a health-related issue warrants a lawsuit.”
By law, employees with physical disability are to be protected under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those two policies act as the core element of workplace discrimination lawsuits as long as the concerned business is employing at least five people.
The law also stipulates that when a business owner must accommodate employees with mental or physical illnesses. Reducing an ill employee’s wages or abruptly changing assigned work hours could result in a discrimination lawsuit.
However, legal advisors emphasize that Korean-American businesses in general do not have a clear understanding of how to treat employees who are struggling with illnesses.
Pregnancy and maternity leaves are also a part of this law.
Business owners do not possess a legal ground to interfere with an employee’s pregnancy and are obligated to provide up to four months of maternity leave.
“A business owners must accommodate employees with physical difficulties,” said labor lawyer Hae-won Kim. “Firing or any sort of vindictive treatment against them is obviously not allowed. Most legal cases involving labor issues are more lenient towards the employees.”
So, what is the ideal reaction for a business owner?
Lawyers advise that keeping a written record of ill employees’ work-related issues and frequently educating them about labor regulations are imperative.
By Yeol Jang