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Consider burden on others when accommodating disabilities

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It’s tough balancing the rights of disabled employees and the rest of your staff. It’s great to be able to offer accommodations that allow a disabled worker to stay in the labor force. But you don’t have to go to such extremes that your other employees have to pick up considerable slack left by the accommodation.

Take, for example, a disabled employee’s request to work a shorter shift than the rest of her co-workers. If that means the rest of the employees have to compensate by working longer or harder, you can deny the request.

Back up your decision with facts—for example, evidence you are short of employees and have a hard time finding qualified candidates.

Recent case: Cherie Best was hired to work as a quality assurance associate in a massive warehouse. Nearly 1,000 other newly hired employees held the same position. All applicants were told the job’s essential functions included lifting 70 pounds. After telling the company she could meet the requirement and passing a 40-pound lifting test, Best was hired.

Associates worked 12-hour shifts. When Best started experiencing back pain, she told a supervisor her doctor didn’t want her to work more than eight consecutive hours. The company requested an updated medical report, which showed Best had preexisting restrictions on walking, bending, lifting and shift length.

Best was discharged because she couldn’t perform the essential functions of the job. She sued, alleging that she should have been accommodated.

The court disagreed. It ruled that even if Best could do the other tasks her medical restrictions indicated she should not perform, it would be unreasonable to let her work a shorter shift. The ADA does not require employers to reduce the length of a shift if doing so means others have to work longer or harder. Given evidence that employees were already working at capacity, the accommodation request was unreasonable. (Best v. UTI Integrated Logistics, No. G:06-0300, SD TX, 2008)

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