Sometimes, employees with disabilities don’t choose to let their employers know. Perhaps they are embarrassed or fear they may end up being discriminated against.
If such an employee needs an accommodation such as a transfer to a less stressful position, she may make the request but never explain why. Then, when she is turned down, she may sue and allege she said she needed the transfer because of her disability.
Counter that scenario by getting her request in writing and including a space on the form to cite a reason. If she doesn’t specify her disability, then she can’t later say her supervisors knew and refused to make the accommodation.
Recent case: Maryellen Ruane-Wilkens works as a teacher and also suffers from depression, including periods when she feels suicidal and loses touch with reality. When she became depressed during a school term, she asked for a transfer to a different school, but never mentioned the reason.
Instead of her desired transfer, she found herself with extra students in her classes.
She said this was retaliation for her transfer request and that the move violated the New York disability discrimination law.
A court disagreed. Because she never asked for the transfer as an accommodation or even mentioned the disability, it tossed out her case. (Ruane-Wilkens v. Board of Education of New York, 2007-08172, Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, 2008)
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