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When deciding reasonable accommodations, assess disability on individual basis

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees who become partially disabled sometimes ask for accommodations that may go beyond what they truly need or beyond what their employer believes the law requires.

Then, when the employer turns down the request, they sue, alleging failure to accommodate. They may argue that other disabled employees were treated more favorably.

To counter such claims, keep good records showing why you made each accommodation or—as in the following case—that the other employee didn’t need any accommodation.

Recent case: Robert Pardo worked as an immigration officer at a Department of Homeland Security detention facility and had frequent contact with prisoners. He injured his wrist in the line of duty and asked for light-duty work.

Eventually, he asked for his old job back—but with no detainee contact as a reasonable accommodation. The department rejected his request and Pardo sued.

Homeland Security argued it couldn’t accommodate his request because detainee contact was an essential part of the job—indeed, the very reason the job existed. But Pardo pointed to another officer who was allowed to keep working even though he had a prosthetic arm.

The court said there was no evidence the other employee asked for an accommodation or didn’t have detainee contact. In fact, that officer never asked for an accommodation and apparently used the prosthesis effectively. Therefore, concluded the court, Pardo couldn’t claim the other officer had been treated more favorably. (Pardo v. Napolitano, No. 07-20438, SD FL, 2009)

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