A file clerk who suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, a recognized disability, was easily distracted and had trouble completing her work.
As an accommodation, she asked for permission to do some of her work outside regular working hours, with fewer co-workers and phone calls to distract her. The employer said no and eventually fired her for not keeping up with her filing. She sued on grounds of disability discrimination.
A lower court tossed out the case, agreeing that such an accommodation would be an undue hardship. But a federal appeals court sided with the worker, noting that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that reasonable accommodations sometimes include a modified work schedule and job restructuring. (Breen v. Department of Transportation, No. 00-5363, D.C. Cir., 2002)
This employer lost the case because it didn't try very hard to accommodate her and wasn't consistent. For example, while the employer argued that it gave the worker some uninterrupted work time, she was still interrupted frequently. And when the employer rejected her flexible schedule because she'd be absent during business hours, the worker pointed to several other employees in her office who already work alternative schedules.
Advice: This case shows that flexible schedules, and even 'quiet time', should be considered for employees with certain conditions. Some workers may be more productive if allowed to work early, late or in private.
But how far do you have to go? Do you have to offer telecommuting or a private office if the worker's disability lends itself to that need and she can get a doctor to back her up?
Typically, you could snuff out such requests by pointing out why it would create an "undue hardship" on your company. You also have the right to consider how such changes would affect your internal operations, including the disabled worker's need for direct supervision and interaction with co-workers.
Remember, you're not required to give in to every requested ADA accommodation, and relatively few ADA claims stand up in court. The only thing you're required to do is have an "interactive process" with the employee to find a reasonable accommodation.
That said, "my way or the highway" is the worst reaction to an accommodation request. Courts are always more lenient with employers who work with the disabled employee to find a solution. Even if you turn down a request, courts want to see that you tried and that you were consistent.
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