Employers are supposed to provide reasonable accommodations that remove barriers to working for disabled workers. But those accommodations don’t have to include implementing changes that make a disabled employee’s commute easier.
Recent case: Alisha worked for an auto seat manufacturer. She has narcolepsy, which requires her to take Ritalin, a stimulant, to stay awake and focused. Alisha worked a 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, as did everyone at the factory.
Alisha lived more than 70 miles away from the factory, so she had a long commute.
Then the company decided to change the working hours for everyone. Their shifts would start at 7 a.m. Alicia claimed that this forced her to commute during rush hour, and that her narcolepsy acted up when she sat in heavy traffic. She apparently had to pull over to rest several times on the way to work.
She requested a reasonable accommodation: an earlier start time that would shorten her commute.
The company refused. It reasoned that Alisha would be the only one at work for an hour and that there would be nothing for her to do until her co-workers arrived. Plus, it didn’t believe it had an obligation to ease Alisha’s commuting problems, even though she has a disability.
She sued, alleging that her request should have been accommodated.
The court disagreed. It drew a clear line between accommodations once the employee reaches work and accommodations that essentially involve getting to work. It concluded that employers are not required to eliminate those barriers that exist outside of the work environment, including a difficult commute. That’s true even if the employee’s disability is the reason the commute is difficult. (Regan v. Faurecia Automotive Seating, No. 11-1356, 6th Cir., 2012)
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