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Don’t drag your feet on employees’ accommodation requests

by on
in Firing,Human Resources

Some problems will eventually go away if you wait long enough. But that's not the attitude to take when employees request workplace accommodations for their physical or mental conditions.

The EEOC is gunning for employers who ignore accommodation requests in hopes that the employee will quit. The EEOC will see such actions as "constructive discharge" and view your delay tactics as refusing to participate in the interactive process that's required under the ADA. That's why it's important to respond quickly to accommodation requests.

Not every condition will qualify as an ADA-covered "disability," and it may take time to make that determination. You may need medical reports to show that the condition substantially impairs a major life activity.

But you should request that medical information right after the person asks for the accommodation. Then, you can make conditional accommodations, pending medical reports.

Recent case: Judith Keane, who has diabetes, worked in the Sears lingerie department. Diabetics often suffer nerve damage, especially in their legs. Keane began having trouble walking and asked to cut through the stockroom at the start of her shift and to be allowed to eat her lunch there.

At first she was given permission, then blocked from cutting through. She updated Sears on her medical condition and sent medical reports that recommended she limit walking. After more than a year of no response to repeated requests to use the shortcut, she quit and sued. The 7th Circuit disapproved of the wait-her-out tactic and sent the case to trial. (EEOC and Keane v. Sears, No. 04-2222, 7th Cir., 2005)

Final note: Sears could have avoided thousands in legal fees by making a simple accommodation: letting Keane walk through the stockroom. Like many accommodations, this one was easy, quick and didn't cost a penny.

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