Q. We have a two-story building with production operations on the first floor and administrative offices on both the first and second floors. There is no elevator in the building. An office employee who works in a department on the second floor has been off work for a back injury. Now he wants to return to work but cannot climb the stairs. Do we have to reassign the employee to the first floor? There is no available space there, and the employee’s work duties are on the second floor.
A. It depends. An employer has a duty to reasonably accommodate a qualified employee with a disability under the ADA and the Michigan Handicappers Act. Your employee may qualify. Under the ADA, you should consider initiating an informal, interactive process with the employee to determine the limitations resulting from his disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations. One factor may be how long the employee will be limited in climbing stairs—temporary conditions don’t generally qualify for ADA protection.
You have the right to require a medical examination of the employee, at company expense, to assess the nature of any accommodation needed. If the employee’s work can be relocated to the first floor without undue disruption to other employees or the business, relocation may be required. The actual test is whether there is “undue hardship” to the business. In many cases, undue hardship is measured in terms of dollars and cents relative to the size of the business.
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