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OK to terminate disabled worker—If there’s no way to accommodate

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

The ADA says disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations—but the key phrase is “reasonable.” If you can show that it’s financially or practically impossible to accommodate, you don’t have to keep trying, or keep the employee. Compare the employee’s medical restrictions with your work environment. If you can’t make the workplace safe, you can cut the employee loose.

Recent case: Cheryl Thomas, who worked for the cosmetics company Avon, claimed she was highly reactive to fragrances and got debilitating migraine headaches whenever she got a whiff of perfume or other aromas. Needless to say, she took quite a bit of time off from work—time Avon chalked up to FMLA leave.

But when her doctor provided a list of medical restrictions that included, “may not medically work in perfumed ambiance, ever,”  the company drew the line. Because fragrance is everywhere at Avon, there was no practical way to shield Thomas from exposure. It told her she couldn’t return to work under those circumstances.

She sued, alleging “failure to accommodate.” But the court tossed out the case, reasoning that Avon had a legitimate reason for refusing to allow her to continue working: It would be impossible to accommodate her restrictions. (Thomas v. Avon Products, No. 1:05-CV-794, SD OH, 2007)

Final note: Avon gave Thomas all the FMLA leave she was entitled to. Even if there was no way to accommodate her sensitivity, the company did owe her time off for her serious health condition. Always consider available FMLA leave before terminating a disabled employee.

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