Employers have to make reasonable accommodations for employees or applicants who have disabilities—and those accommodations may include assignment to an open position.
But if the underlying reason for an employee’s request to transfer to an open position is that a medical provider recommended a shorter commute, you don’t have to make the accommodation.
Because commutes are not part of the work environment, but are based on personal factors like the choice of where to live, shortening a commute is not something an employer is responsible for.
Instead, employers are obligated to make reasonable accommodations for needs that affect the workplace once the employee arrives at work. This may include an accessible parking space and accessibility to the work space, but does not extend to the actual commute to work.
Recent case: Ray Parker worked for Verizon and developed a rare autoimmune condition that caused lung inflammation, which made it hard for him to breathe and talk. His job had been to answer customer telephone calls and help them resolve service or billing problems.
Parker’s doctors gave him several medical restrictions. The company accommodated most of them, including assigning Parker to jobs where he did not need to speak. The company shortened his workdays so he could get the rest he needed. One request it did deny was a transfer to cut his commute time for medical reasons.
Parker sued after he was terminated for an unrelated reason. He alleged he had been denied a transfer to accommodate his medical need for a shorter commute.
But the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his claim, reasoning, “commuting to and from work is not part of the work environment that an employer is required to reasonably accommodate.” (Parker v. Verizon, No. 07-4829, 3rd Cir., 2009)
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