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Hold it! Must you allow unlimited bathroom breaks?

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

by Mindy Chapman, Esq.

Employers are required to offer job accommodations to employees who have qualifying disabilities, says the ADA. But if an employee has a medical condition that requires frequent bathroom breaks, does that count as a “disability”? The answer is clear, especially this year …

Case in Point: Reginald Green was hired as a chauffeur for a university president. During a pre-hire medical exam, Green disclosed that he took medication for a bowel condition that caused urgent needs to use the restroom. Nevertheless, he had no work restrictions.

Before Green began the job, his supervisor allegedly told him it was best to minimize bathroom stops on long driving trips, stating that one stop was “acceptable” but “zero is preferable.”

The trouble occurred when the university president took a business trip from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia. On the ride home, the president didn’t want Green to make any stops. Green warned the president that he would “have an accident in the car” if he wasn’t allowed to stop. The president ignored his plea. Regardless, Green drove to a rest stop and used the facilities. When Green returned to the car, the president mumbled something under his breath and refused to talk to him the rest of the drive. The next day, Green was fired.

Green fired off a claim under the ADA, which requires “reasonable accommodations” for people with qualifying disabilities. The school argued that Green wasn’t technically disabled because he never missed work due to the condition.

The court sided with Green, sending the case to a jury to flush out the facts.

The court said Green does qualify as a disabled person because the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 included waste elimination as a “major life activity” under the law (see box below). (Green v. American Univ., D.D.C.)

2 Lessons Learned

1. Respect the accommodation—don’t mumble under your breath. The court can hear you. It may not hear exactly what you said, but it will hear your attitude against people with disabilities and react accordingly.

2. Get a sundial.
If an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation before the sun rises and you fire them before the sun sets, get ready to write a check where the sky is the limit.

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