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Always consider disability accommodations

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Even if you believe no accommodation is possible for a disabled worker, the ADA requires you to at least consider the possibility. Always discuss the possibilities with the employee before deciding she can’t be accommodated.

Recent case: Roberta began working for Trinity Health in 2007 as a respiratory therapist in the cardiopulmonary department. She has cervical spinal stenosis, a degenerative disease of the spine. She requested FMLA leave to have surgery on her neck. Trinity approved her request.

When she returned to work, Roberta gave Trinity a “Return to Work Form,” in which her doctor outlined her physical restrictions. It noted she would be restricted to working eight-hour shifts and could lift, carry, pull or push no more than 10 pounds. Management agreed to allow her to temporarily work eight-hour shifts instead of the usual 12-hour shifts others in the department worked. However, Trinity warned Roberta it could not indefinitely accommodate the restriction.

Shortly after she returned to work, Roberta learned that she and the other technicians needed to renew their life-support certifications, which required passing a written and physical test. Roberta explained that she had to wait a few months to take the physical part because of her medical restrictions.

She was terminated, since the certification was a part of her job requirements.

Roberta sued, alleging that her request for additional time to take the test was a request for reasonable accommodations. That, her lawyers argued, meant that Trinity should have opened discussions and discussed potential accommodations, including reassignment to open positions. Instead, the employer fired her without discussion.

The court said Roberta’s case could go forward. It decided Trinity had refused to engage in the ADA’s interactive accommodations process. (Kowitz v. Trinity Health, No. 15-1584, 8th Cir., 2016)

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