No business wants to waste money. Trimming the budget can be a necessary step to ensuring profitability. But don’t let cost-cutting measures derail ADA reasonable accommodations requests. Offering an accommodation may be far cheaper than losing a failure-to-accommodate lawsuit.
Recent case: Lisa was a rising star on the IBM cloud-computing team. She got the highest possiblescores, and her boss told her she was doing a stellar job and was poised for promotion.
Then Lisa developed back problems around the same time IBM made budget cuts, including requiring employees to book airline travel in coach instead of business class. Lisa’s doctors limited her lifting to 10 pounds and recommended that, for flights longer than eight hours, Lisa be allowed to fly in business class. Lisa passed on the recommendations to HR and also requested a lightweight laptop so she wouldn’t have to carry more than 10 pounds.
Both requests were denied. Instead, IBM offered her a part-time job or a special-projects job that wouldn’t require travel or short-term disability leave. After a failed travel attempt—which left her in bed for three days, taking large doses of painkillers—Lisa took leave.
When she returned, she found her position filled and her duties diminished. Suddenly, her boss didn’t praise her work anymore.
She never returned and instead sued.
IBM argued that its alternative job arrangements were accommodations that were reasonable under the ADA. The court said a jury might see things differently and that the cost of a laptop and upgraded tickets wasn’t unreasonable for a large company like IBM. (Noon v. IBM, No. 120-CIV-4544, SD NY, 2013)
Final note: Don’t let minor costs derail an otherwise productive employee’s career.