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You don’t need to accommodate totally disabled workers

by on
in Human Resources

Issue: How to handle employees who claim disability benefits but also want ADA-related job accommodations.

Risk: Sometimes, you must offer those accommodations, sometimes you don't. One mistake can trigger an ADA claim.

Action: Focus on whether the employee can perform the job's essential functions. If he can't, he isn't entitled to accommodations.

Employees who ask for and receive disability benefits may sometimes also ask for workplace accommodations for their disabilities. In some cases, they may be entitled to both; in other cases, not.

That puts your organization in a bind. If you deny the requested accommodations, the employee may sue for ADA violations.

The Supreme Court has ruled previously that employees can request Social Security disability benefits and still demand accommodation if those two claims aren't inconsistent. The key is to look at the person's ability.

As the following case shows, you don't need to accommodate employees who are totally disabled and can't perform the core job functions, even with an accommodation. But if they can still perform the job, you may need to accommodate.

Case in point: After a fall, an employee developed memory problems. He applied for and received disability benefits under Social Security and his employer's disability plan. His applications for those programs claimed he was totally disabled and unable to work. Still, he asked for his job back and some accommodations. The company refused his reinstatement, so he filed an ADA suit but lost. The court said employees who are totally disabled and can't perform the essential duties (even with accommodation) aren't eligible to file ADA suits. (Opsteen v. Keller Structures, Inc., No. 02-C-1121, 4th Cir.)

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