To make sure employees who really aren’t disabled don’t get special treatment, HR professionals need to understand what constitutes a disability and what’s just a minor ailment or an excuse to get more favorable assignments.
To qualify as disabled, an individual’s condition must substantially impair a major life function, such as walking, talking, breathing, caring for oneself or working. When an employee claims a disability, ask how the condition impairs him or her—and get medical documentation. Only then can you make the call.
Simply wanting another, easier position or a transfer isn’t justified unless the employee has an actual disability.
Recent case: Charles Logan worked as a letter carrier until falling mail volume at his post office led to a transfer to another location. His response? He took several months off for an unspecified “stress disorder,” and asked for a transfer and another job assignment.
His doctor provided a diagnosis of “generalized anxiety disorder,” but his supervisors wanted to know more. It turned out the only place Logan had trouble was at work. At home, he could do everything he had done before becoming “disabled,” including caring for himself and his mother.
Logan eventually found a position at a location he liked, but still sued for disability discrimination. He claimed the Postal Service should have accommodated him with a transfer sooner.
The court tossed his case, concluding Logan’s anxiety didn’t substantially impair any major life function. So, he wasn’t due any accommodation. (Logan v. Potter, No. 06-297, DC NJ, 2007)