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No way to accommodate? Then you don’t have to

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

Employers are obligated to engage in an interactive accommodations process when disabled employees request an accommodation and one is possible.

But if you’re confident it’s not possible to accommodate the disabled worker—that he would never be able to perform the job’s essential functions—then you don’t have to go through the motions.

Recent case: Tim McKane, who worked for UBS Financial Services, claimed that a mental or psychological condition made it impossible for him to get along with his co-workers.

After a particularly bad argument with other employees, he asked for an unusual accommodation: He wanted his office moved far away from other employees, presumably so he wouldn’t have to interact with them, thus avoiding any chance of getting into loud arguments.

UBS refused to even entertain the idea, mainly because it said that getting along reasonably well with one’s co-workers was an essential function of the job. It also said that the incident that precipitated McKane’s request was actually McKane’s fault—he had called the co-worker into his office and then launched the tirade.

McKane sued, alleging that at a minimum, his employer violated the ADA by refusing to open talks about reasonable accommodations.

But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case. It said UBS showed that no possible accommodation was possible. The interactive accommodations process is required only if there is a potential accommodation that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Clearly, that was not the case here. (McKane v. UBS Financial Services, No. 09-13011, 11th Cir., 2010)

Final note: Remember that you have the right to expect civil behavior from every employee. While some mental conditions may make employees short-tempered, that isn’t an excuse for poor behavior.

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