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Seek accommodations even if the effort seems impossible

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As soon as an employee makes it known that he needs accommodations, it’s up to the employer to start an interactive accommodations process, even if it turns out that no accommodation is actually possible.

That process should include:

  • Gathering information about the nature of the employee’s disability limitations.
  • Working with the employee to identify essential and non-essential duties.
  • Working to find accommodations that allow the employee to successfully perform essential functions.
  • Identifying other positions that the employee could perform if no other accommodation is possible.

Recent case: Accountant Daniel Liner asked for accommodations for hypertension. His doctors said he had to leave by 5 p.m. every weekday to attend martial arts classes “for medical reasons,” and he needed weekends off, too.

His employer told him it had concluded he couldn’t perform the essential functions of his job and discharged him.

Liner sued, alleging his employer had not acted in good faith by failing to even consider possible accommodations. A jury awarded him almost $300,000.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the award, reasoning that an employer cannot “stymie” the interactive accommodation process by “pre-emptively terminating” an employee before discussions even begin. That’s true even if no accommodation is possible. What matters is the good-faith effort to look for solutions. (Liner v. Hospital Services, No. 06-30300, 5th Cir., 2007)

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