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Work to accommodate disability, but know when to fold

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations for their disabilities in order to perform the essential functions of their jobs. But that doesn’t mean employers have to create a whole new job within the disabled employee’s capacities. All the ADA requires is an honest attempt to find solutions.

That’s why it’s important to have an accommodations process in place. That process can include:

  • Gathering information about the nature of the disability and what the employee’s limitations are.
  • Working together to review the employee’s current job, and identifying which job duties are essential and which are not.
  • Discussing and finding accommodations that allow the employee to successfully perform essential functions.
  • Identifying other open positions in the company that the employee may be able to perform if no accommodation is possible for the current job. If the employee still can’t do the job, it may be time to discharge him or her.

Recent case: Edna Lee had worked for the U.S. Postal Service since 1984 and had a series of on-the-job injuries. She did light-duty jobs while recovering from her injuries or while workers’ compensation claims were pending.

Finally, after her last claim was rejected, she asked for accommodations. The Postal Service worked with her for a while, but finally concluded there were no jobs within her limitations except one that she didn’t have the seniority to bid on successfully. It then discharged her.

She sued, alleging failure to accommodate. But the 6th Circuit rejected her claim, pointing out that the Postal Service had worked with her until it was clear she couldn’t perform the essential functions expected of her. (Thompson, Administratrix for Lee, v. Henderson, No. 06-5553, 6th Cir., 2007)

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