Employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations to allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs—if they let their employers know they need help.
But if employees’ disabilities aren’t obvious (e.g., they aren’t in a wheelchair or using a guide dog), the ADA doesn’t protect them if they don’t make it clear they have a disability.
Only after an employee reveals he has a disability are you obligated to pursue reasonable accommodations. Vague requests such as asking for “more help” aren’t enough to trigger the ADA.
Recent case: Anthony Falso worked as a temp on assignment to SPG for several short periods until the company terminated his assignment allegedly for . Falso, who suffers from learning and social disorders, including social awkwardness, obsessive-compulsive behavior and difficulties with fine motor coordination, asked for “more help” figuring out the job he was assigned. But he never specified that he had any problems, and none was obvious.
Falso sued, claiming harassment and failure to accommodate under the ADA. But the court dismissed the case, explaining that the employer had no obligation to accommodate a disability it didn’t know existed. (Falso v. SPG Direct, No. 05-CV-6548, WD NY, 2008)
Final note: Here’s how to handle an accommodation request: Wait until the employee says he needs an accommodation or reveals he has a disability. Don’t ask whether he has a disability—doing so could trigger a “regarded-as-disabled” claim, even if it turns out he’s not disabled.
Once the employee explains he needs accommodations, look at the essential functions of the job to see what can be modified as an accommodation, while also getting documentation of the disability. That documentation must demonstrate that the employee has a condition that substantially impairs a major life function such as walking, breathing, seeing, speaking, understanding or working.
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