Sometimes, disabled applicants and employees try to insist on a particular accommodation. They expect employers to blindly agree to their suggestions without considering the expense or inconvenience.
Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, think about possible accommodations that meet your organization’s needs and that make sense. If you come up with what sounds like a reasonable plan and you are sued, chances are a court won’t second-guess your offer.
Remember: The ADA calls for reasonable accommodations.
As the following case shows, employers able to show that a disabled employee made unreasonable requests will usually win. Employers may even be able to collect attorneys’ fees from the employee.
Recent case: Lynn Heaser had sued her former employer for chemical-sensitivity discrimination, but had lost her original trial and an appeal. That didn’t stop her from informing her new employer on her first day that she needed a chemical-free workplace.
When Heaser took the new job with a credit collection company, the company tried to accommodate her request for a chemical-free work environment. It gave her a special bathroom with no fragrances, provided her with special office furniture, let her take time off during training when her allergies acted up, set up an air purifier and fan and asked other employees to refrain from wearing any scents.
Still, her allergies persisted and she went out on paid leave for 30 days. She never returned and instead sued for failure to accommodate. The company had refused to let her telecommute or set up a completely chemical-free environment.
The court dismissed her case and ordered her to pay $5,000 in legal fees to the company.
The court said it was unreasonable to expect all 200 employees who worked on an open floor with Heaser to stop using anything with a scent. It said it was unrealistic for the company to restructure its entire way of doing business to set up a telecommuting position, and that Heaser had no absolute right to a chemical-free workplace. (Heaser v. Alliance One Receivables, No. 07-CV-2924, DC MN, 2009)