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ADA accommodation: Not a one-shot deal

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Some days Carolyn Humphrey tried from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. just to get ready for work. She would rinse her hair for up to an hour. If it didn't "feel right" when she brushed it, she'd head back to the shower. She'd check and recheck for papers she needed. But when she did make it in, Humphrey's work as a medical transcriptionist was excellent.

After Humphrey received disciplinary warnings for her tardiness and absences, a doctor diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder and suggested a leave of absence to get the symptoms under control.

As an accommodation, the company let Humphrey begin work any time within a 24-hour period when she was scheduled to work. But even with this superflexible schedule, she continued to miss work.

Humphrey asked to work from home, as some transcriptionists were doing, but the request was denied because department policy barred that option for anyone under disciplinary action. Humphrey's supervisor said she needed to put in a year with no attendance problems to qualify to work at home.

Eventually, the company fired her for tardiness and absenteeism. She sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the court let the case go to trial. (Humphrey v. Memorial Hospitals Association, No. 98-15404, 9th Cir., 2001)

Advice: Erratic behavior like this may drive you insane, but making accommodations for employees with disabilities isn't a one-time effort. When one accommodation isn't working, you must consider other options.

If an employee's request for an accommodation conflicts with your policy or your obligations under a collective bargaining agreement, explore other options. And don't expect to be protected from discrimination charges by a policy that isn't based on sound business reasons or that hasn't been applied uniformly.

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