Expert Advice

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2005

Q. One of my employees is having trouble getting to work on time because she has no dependable transportation. Is there a social agency I can refer her to for help?

Lucy Nicandri, of the Florida Center for Child and Family Development, answers: Our organization, in cooperation with Goodwill Industries-Manasota, Inc. and AmSouth Bank, has a program that can help get your employee to work on time. The program is called Ways to Work. If your employee meets certain criteria, he or she may be awarded a $4,000 loan to purchase reliable transportation. To qualify an individual must meet the following eligibility requirements:

Be a custodial parent of a child under the age of 17 (18 if still in school), be a resident of Sarasota or Manatee County, be employed 20 hours or more per week for at least six months, have a household income that does not exceed 80 percent of the area's median income, have sufficient disposable income to repay the loan, and have exhausted other loan options.

If you think your employee may meet these requirements, have them call Kelley Love at (941) 359-3347. Chances are both you, and your employee will benefit from this program. Nicandri can be reached at 371-8820, ext. 1030 or [email protected]

Q. My small business is located in a charming old two-story building without an elevator. One of my employees, whose office is upstairs, broke her leg. How far do I have to go in accommodating her temporary disability?

Karen Morinelli, of counsel, Ruden McCloskey Smith Schuster & Russell, P.A, weighs in: It depends. Answers to employer questions about leave time, disability and accommodations typically depend on how many employees you have. Since the question concerns a small business, my first question is how small (i.e., how many employees are employed) and/or does the business have an arrangement with an employee leasing company? Also, it would be helpful to learn what is meant by "temporary disability."

Depending on the answers, employers could be subject to various federal, state and local statutes and ordinances, or to none of them. If this employer has an affiliation with an employee leasing company, that may change a small employer's obligations. A small employer with only a couple of employees may have no legal requirement to accommodate an employee under federal or state law; however, when combined with the obligations set forth in a contract with a leasing company, which could be a co-employer, such obligations may arise.

Additionally, numerous local ordinances define employers differently than do federal and state laws. Typically, small employers are not as familiar with the local ordinances as they do not receive the publicity of the more far-reaching federal and state statutes.

Some of those more well-known statutes include The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees. This statute prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, enjoyment of goods, services and transportation, and places of public accommodation. Title I of the ADA prohibits employment discrimination by public and private employers, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled applicants and employees, and prohibits pre-employment-offer medical exams and other inquiries into disabilities.

The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FCRA) provides for all individuals within the state freedom from discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status. For purposes of the FCRA, the term employer includes an entity generally employing 15 or more employees.

For employers employing more than 50 employees, leave for certain types of serious health conditions of employees and certain family members may be required under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides that eligible employees of a covered employer may take a job-protected unpaid leave for up to a total of 12 work weeks in any 12-month period in any of four situations, including the individual's own serious health condition.

While there may be no responsibility for the employer mentioned in our question, the correct answer is to seek the advice of a qualified attorney. Morinelli's response should not be construed as legal advice. She can be reached at 316-7630.

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