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Give disabled workers a job, not a promotion

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Occasionally it’s impossible to find an accommodation that will allow a disabled employee to continue to do her current job. That’s when employers must consider the possibility of transferring the employee to an open job she can perform.

That doesn’t mean, however, that employers must give a promotion to the employee if the only open position is higher up.

Recent case: Sandra McBride worked for BIC Consumer Products as a utility operator in the cartridge assembly area of the company’s ink systems department. Her job exposed her to various chemical fumes. She complained that the exposure caused respiratory ailments and said she had experienced panic and anxiety attacks.

McBride took medical leave. When she was cleared to return, her doctors said she couldn’t work near chemicals. The company offered to provide McBride with a respirator to deal with the chemical fumes, but she refused and never returned to work.

She then sued, alleging that because BIC hadn’t transferred her to an open position, the company had failed to accommodate her disability.

The company said there were open spots, but none that McBride was qualified to do or that didn’t involve a promotion or exposure to fumes.

The court tossed out her case. It concluded that employers may have to transfer disabled employees to open positions if they already have the necessary qualifications. However, employers don’t have to consider transferring the employee to a position that amounts to a promotion. The court decided that since McBride was qualified only for jobs that required chemical exposure, and since she had already rejected a mask as an accommodation, BIC had done all it was required to do. (McBride v. BIC Consumer Products, No. 07-5689, 2nd Cir., 2009)

Final note: BIC did everything right in this case. It suggested an accommodation and was willing to work with the employee.

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