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Disabled worker isn’t entitled to work-at-home accommodation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Lynn Heaser blamed the air quality in her office at Toro for her health problems, which were diagnosed as everything from allergies to chemical sensitivities.

She asked to work from home. But Toro refused, saying the software Heaser needed to work on was available only in the office, not in a remote format. Instead, the company tried other accommodations. It let her leave work when she became ill. When that option failed, it moved her to a different office. That didn't provide relief, so Heaser took a medical leave of absence.

The company asked for a note from Heaser's doctor saying she was fit to work. The doctor's response: Unless Heaser could avoid plastics, carbonless paper, copiers and people wearing perfume, it would be difficult for her to succeed at work.

Handling carbonless paper, printed materials and copiers was central to her job as a marketing services coordinator. So Toro terminated her.

She accused the company of failing to accommodate her under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but a federal appeals panel tossed out her case. (Heaser v. Toro Co., No. 00-1294, 8th Cir., 2001)

The key point: Telecommuting is often a workable compromise, but not in this case. Toro would have had to overhaul its business computer system so Heaser could work on the software from home. That's not a reasonable accommodation, the court said.

Advice: This case again points to the need to do an individual assessment each time a disabled employee requests an accommodation. You have to make a solid accommodation effort, but you don't have to rework your system at exorbitant cost, and you don't have to offer telecommuting if it's not a reasonable fix.

Also, document every step of your accommodation attempts. This employer was aided in court by its many efforts to work with the employee before it fired her.

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