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‘Magic word’ not needed for accommodation

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

By now, you are probably familiar with the idea your FMLA obligations are triggered when employees provide enough information for you to reasonably understand that they might need FMLA leave. They don’t need to say any “magic words.”

It’s the same with requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA. A worker doesn’t have to ask for “reasonable accommodations.” She merely has to provide enough information for you to realize that’s what she needs.

Recent case: Elli worked as a nursing staff educator at a HealthEast Care medical facility. She underwent neck surgery. Following the operation, she developed complications including vocal cord paralysis. She also had a knee problem that required her to have another operation around the same time.

Elli used up her FMLA leave while recovering. HealthEast Care granted her additional time off after her FMLA leave expired, hiring a temporary worker to fill in for her.

A few weeks later, Elli’s doctor cleared her to resume speaking so she could perform her training duties. Another doctor said her knee had recovered enough to return to work, with the proviso that she had to use crutches. She informed her supervisors and gave them a return date.

That’s when HealthEast Care terminated her and permanently hired the temp. Elli sued, alleging failure to accommodate. Health­­East Care said she never asked for an accommodation.

Not so, reasoned the court. By informing her supervisors she needed to use crutches, Elli was essentially telling them she needed an accommodation. That should have been obvious to her em­­ployer, which should have im­­me­­diately begun the interactive accommodations process to see if she could do her job on crutches. The case will go to trial. (LeClair v. Health­­East Care, No. 11-3319, DC MN, 2013)

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