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Rely on union contract terms when working out disability accommodations

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Dealing with a labor union has its headaches, but figuring out how to deal with disability accommodations isn’t one of them. The fact is, having a collective-bargaining contract in place can make that easier.

If it includes rules on transfers, bumping and the like, employers can safely follow the contract terms without worrying about violating the ADA’s requirement to reasonably accommodate disabled employees with reassignment to open positions.

Recent case: Gail King was a bus driver who became unable to work because of a high-risk pregnancy, diabetes and migraine headaches. Her workplace was covered by a union contract. King was off for about 14 months until her doctors released her to return with one major restriction: no driving.

King wanted an accommodation and asked to be placed in another open position. According to the union contract, employees returning from disability leave could bump other employees with less seniority. The only position King could bump into was one that also required driving. She demanded a transfer to a clerical position, but the employer said the contract didn’t allow her to bump into such a job.

King sued, alleging failure to reasonably accommodate.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her case. It said her employer had the right to follow the union contract rules on accommodations, and was not required to find another job for her that would have violated the contract. (King v. City of Madison, No. 08-2052, 7th Cir., 2008)

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