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Doing half a job is not a reasonable accommodation request

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

After a construction worker injured his shoulder, had surgery and returned to work, he told his employer he didn't have any disability that would prevent him from doing his work, which included heavy lifting.

But for most of his first day back, he couldn't handle strenuous lifting. So he asked for two accommodations: someone else to do the heaviest lifting for him if he couldn't handle it, and that he "try and see" if he could do all the essential functions of the job.

The company refused and fired him. He sued, saying his employer regarded him as disabled and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

An appeals court sided with the employer. Reason: The ADA requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" to allow disabled workers to perform the essential functions of their jobs. But requiring another worker to take on part of the essential functions of the disabled worker's job is definitely an unreasonable request.

Also, the court said employers aren't obligated to let employees try out a job to determine whether some yet-to-be-requested accommodation may be needed. (Peters v. City of Mauston, No. 02-1178, 7th Cir., 2002)

Advice: You don't have to assign any of the essential functions of a job to another employee to comply with the ADA's "reasonable accommodation" rule. If you made such an exception, it would be tough to refuse divvying up jobs for other workers. Rule of thumb: When making work assignments with accommodations in mind, act consistently and make no exceptions.

Don't take the second part of this ruling too literally. It said you don't have to let returning workers try out a position to see if an accommodation is needed. However, the ADA does require an "interactive process" between employer and employee. This might include a trial run or light-duty position if either is possible.

Whether such a "tryout" makes sense will depend on the circumstances, but you never have to let employees run wild with unreasonable accommodation requests. Rein them in by first clarifying the real effects of the worker's limitations on job performance and then studying the individual's job description to determine the position's essential and marginal functions. If a requested accommodation would create an undue hardship on your business, your chances of winning an ADA case are very high.

? Free E-visory report: ADA accommodations: How far must you go?

You must make a "reasonable" effort to accommodate disabled employees. But what's considered reasonable? Our three-page primer, ADA: The Limits of Accommodation, will help you make that call, plus advise you on financial and technical assistance available for your ADA-accommodation costs. For a free copy of the E-visory report, go to www.you-and-the-law.com/extra.

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