Accommodate–don’t dismiss–disabled worker

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Disabled employees may have trouble doing their jobs without an accommodation. If you simply tell the employee to figure out a way to perform the job and refuse to help find an accommodation, the em­­ployee may quit and apply for unemployment.

Recent case: James Cunningham worked as a stocker at a Walmart store. Several small strokes had left him with memory and concentration problems. At one point, he requested accommodations, but had been turned down when his boss told him the paper­work would be too much trouble.

Even so, all went well when Cunningham was responsible for stocking only the gum section. But then his supervisors expanded his coverage area and cut the number of employees working with him by half. Cunningham had trouble completing his work under the new plan, and was written up on many occasions.

Finally, Cunningham’s supervisor sent him home for what Walmart calls a “decision day.” Employees are paid for a day to come up with their own plan to succeed and meet expectations. They are supposed to return for their next scheduled shift with that plan in hand.

Cunningham couldn’t think of any way he could meet expectations on his own, so he gave up. He didn’t report for work and didn’t call in. His supervisor assumed Cunningham had quit and terminated him.

Walmart opposed unemployment benefits, arguing it had fired Cunningham for misconduct.

But the court said he should receive unemployment benefits. It explained that the law allows employees with disabilities that make it impossible to do their work to collect benefits. Since Cunningham could not do his job because he could not concentrate and multitask due to im­­paired mental functions brought on by strokes, he was eligible. (Cunningham v. Wal-Mart, No. A11-153, Minnesota Court of Appeals, 2011)

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