Sometimes, it seems easier to just make an accommodation than argue about whether the employee requesting one is really disabled. But does making the accommodation mean you agree the employee is disabled?
The answer is no. If the employee comes back asking for even more accommodations, you still can challenge her status.
Recent case: Mary Stringer was diagnosed with asthma after working for Equistar for several years. A year or so later, Stringer claimed her office was exacerbating her illness and asked for accommodations.
The company obliged her by replacing carpet with tile, painting her office, installing new floorboards and even purchasing an air purifier.
Stringer was placed on a performance improvement plan because of poor work and eventually was fired. She sued, alleging disability discrimination and arguing she had been targeted because she was disabled.
But the court tossed out her claim. It reasoned that Stringer, who said she couldn’t climb steps without becoming winded or mow the lawn, wasn’t impaired enough to qualify as disabled. Her mild condition simply didn’t substantially impair a major life function. No accommodation was due. (Stringer v. Lyondell Chemical, No. H-06-3138, SD TX, 2007)
Final note: The court didn’t hold the employer’s early accommodation efforts against it. If you are inclined to accommodate an employee even if the ADA doesn’t require you to, know that some courts may view those efforts as proof of your sincerity.
- Uniformity key to investigations that stand up in court
- Light-duty drudgery isn't grounds for lawsuit
- Workers who pursue internal discrimination grievances have extra time to sue
- Beware age discrimination risk when offering promotions
- Disability isn't a free pass to insubordination; enforce behavior rules with all employees