No cooperation on ADA accommodations? Then it’s time to consider termination

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Some disabled employees take the approach that it’s their way or no way when it comes to accommodations that would allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs.

Fortunately, employers have leeway in exactly which accommodation should be used. Employees who refuse to cooperate in the interactive process designed to identify reasonable accommodations can even be fired for not cooperating.

Recent case: Randy had part of his foot amputated when he was a teenager. He went on to work as a paralegal for El Paso County and had a successful career for a while.

He sued over allegedly unpaid overtime. That claim was settled while Randy was on a leave of absence for an unrelated reason. Meanwhile, the office reorganized, hired more attorneys and moved paralegals into cubicles on the open floor.

That’s when Randy began complaining about his foot. He got his doctor to certify that he is disabled. The first report said he could not walk more than 30 feet per day.

Randy then requested an accommodation—he wanted to move back into his old office, which was next to the one his supervisor occupied.

The county countered with an offer to provide Randy with a scanner, a wheelchair and the ability to communicate with his supervisor mainly via email or telephone instead of having to walk to the supervisor’s office to discuss cases and other matters. Randy refused those offers.

However, he provided an updated medical-limitations report that said he could now walk 100 feet per day. And he reiterated his demand for a better office.

The county wouldn’t budge, and it terminated Randy.

It listed as reasons Randy’s failure to cooperate with the interactive accommodations process and repeated rejection—without even trying them—of every suggested ADA accommodation. The termination notice also stated that Randy refused to use a handicapped parking spot (which would have saved him substantial walking) and had been observed walking far more than 100 feet per day without any apparent difficulty.

Randy sued, alleging retaliation for requesting an accommodation and refusal to accommodate.

The court dismissed his case. It reasoned that employees have to accept offered accommodations even if they would prefer another. Plus, if the employee doesn’t cooperate, that’s independent grounds for termination. (Hagood v. County of El Paso, No. 08-11-00280, Court of Appeals of Texas, 8th District, 2013)

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