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Start new accommodations process if disability worsens

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Some disabilities get worse with time. An accommodation that allows an employee to perform the essential functions of her job today may not work as well in six months or a year.

That’s why it’s important for HR to stay on top of the employee’s disabling medical conditions. Regularly review accommodations to see whether they are still working or whether you need to modify them.

A good time to build in a review is at performance appraisal time. After all, that’s when the employee and the supervisor are already discussing the job, expectations, goals and other performance issues.

Recent case: Linda Hewett worked for BB&T bank for four years as a teller until she quit in frustration.

Hewett had problems hearing, and her hearing deteriorated over time. By the time she had been at BB&T for two years, she had more than 50% hearing loss. That’s when she asked for an accommodation: working on the teller line that handled only commercial accounts. There she would be dealing with many of the same customers every day and could anticipate their needs better than in a general teller line.

The accommodation worked for a while, until Hewett could barely hear at all. She made several requests to be transferred to another position that didn’t require customer contact. She applied for a scanning clerk job and went through two interviews, but wasn’t picked. That’s when she quit and sued, claiming there had been 24 openings BB&T could have assigned her as a reasonable accommodation.

The court said Hewett’s case should go to trial. Now a jury will decide whether BB&T’s refusal to move Hewett to an open position without customer contact was a failure-to-accommodate violation of the ADA. (EEOC v. BB&T, No. 7:06-CV-71, ED NC, 2008)

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