Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to workers with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the ADA, recently filed multiple lawsuits against employers who have failed to comply with the law.
Employers should establish internal protocols to make sure that managers and employees understand their obligations and rights under the law.
An employer’s obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation occurs only after the employee tells the employer that she or he has a medical condition requiring such an accommodation.
Too often, managers initiate the conversation about disabilities and mistakenly regard employees as having a disability impacting their jobs. This error could lead to liability by the employer.
The request for an accommodation need not be in writing and can be made by anyone, including a family member.
David Fram of the National Employment Law Institute said that once an employee makes the request, managers need to say these five magic words: “How can I help you?” which will trigger the process to determine if the employee has an impairment that constitutes a disability and if the employer can provide reasonable accommodations so the employee can perform the essential job functions without an undue hardship. The employer does not need to take away any essential functions to accommodate an employee.
This is why job descriptions become key when determining if a certain task is an essential job function. If an essential function must be removed to accommodate an employee, then the employee is no longer qualified for the job. For instance, when Rite Aid added immunization injections as an essential function for a pharmacist, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the requirement as an essential job function, largely because it was in the job description.
The court held that the employer need not accommodate a pharmacist who suffered from a phobia of needles. But it later ruled against Walmart in a similar case where the job description had not been updated to include the requirement that pharmacists give injections.
If leave is requested as an accommodation, indefinite leave or chronic sporadic leave generally won’t be considered reasonable.
Each accommodation request needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.