When to say ‘No’ to disability accommodation requests

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in Human Resources

Federal law (specifically, the ADA) says you must accommodate a person’s qualified disability, but that doesn’t mean you must say “Yes” to every accommodation request from every ailing worker.

But it’s a tough call on when you legally can say “No.”

Sometimes, reality dictates that an employee with worsening health can no longer perform the job, no matter how many accommodations you provide.

If the person can’t perform the job, even with the accommodation, you don’t have to keep him or her on staff. If no other position is available, it means parting ways.

Before parting, however, explore every avenue. (See box below for tips on offering accommodations.)

Recent case: Raymond Denczak worked on the Ford production line for 23 years until he had three intestinal surgeries.

He missed a year of work before returning with medical restrictions, including frequent bathroom breaks.

Denczak returned to the assembly line, but couldn’t always leave the line for the men’s room. Ford moved him to another position where he had to perform only one task and could take breaks as needed.

But that position had a production quota of 225 units per hour, and Denczak could meet only 35 percent of it. Ford said employees had to hit at least 80 percent of the quota to avoid discipline, explaining that production was critical.

Denczak asked for reassignment to a cleaning position, but none was open. He retired and sued, alleging that Ford should have accommodated him either with an alternative job or a lower production quota.

The court tossed the case, saying it was unreasonable to expect Ford to go much below 80 percent on the quota. It also clarified that an employee has no right to an alternative job when none is available. (Denczak v. Ford Motor Company, No. 06-3279, 6th Cir., 2007)  

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