ADA: Making accommodations doesn’t mean you accept that employee is disabled

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Consider this when deciding whether to offer a simple and cheap accommodation to an employee who claims he’s disabled: Offering help doesn’t mean you accept that he’s disabled. You can still challenge his status under the ADA if he sues.

Making an accommodation helps show that you are reasonable and sensitive to the employee’s needs. That can prove helpful if there is litigation later.

Recent case: Abidan was hired as a Walmart shelf stocker. After just a few months on the job, he claimed he developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Walmart gave Abidan time off to help him heal.

When Abidan’s doctors said he should not engage in repetitive motions or lift more than 25 pounds, Walmart placed him in a front door “greeter” position. There, his main duty was to greet customers entering the store and place stickers on any merchandise they were returning.

Sometimes, greeters were asked to return merchandise to the floor. Abidan did so reluctantly, apparently believing doing so violated his medical restrictions—even though he always left heavy items for other employees to return and never was criticized for doing so.

Then Abidan got into an argument with his supervisor about his restrictions and the restocking part of his job. The encounter, captured on tape, ended with Abidan tossing his badge on the floor and storming out. He was terminated.

Abidan sued, alleging he had not been accommodated because restocking involved repetitive motion, something his medical restrictions prohibited.

Walmart argued that Abidan wasn’t entitled to reasonable accommodations at all because he wasn’t disabled.

The court agreed with Walmart and tossed out the case. It reasoned that not being able to lift 25 pounds or more isn’t a serious enough restriction on major life activities to constitute a disability. At most, it’s a minor problem shared by millions of Americans. It didn’t matter that Walmart had allowed an accommodation; that wasn’t tantamount to admitting Abidan was disabled. (Mohammed v. Wal-Mart, No. 10-CV-6074, WD NY, 2013)

Leave a Comment