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Don’t try to guess reasonable accommodations

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employers have no obligation to try to anticipate if a disabled employee needs reasonable accommodations. It’s up to employees to ask for accommodations help.

Recent case: Allen worked as a technician for a municipal sewage treatment facility. Over several years, he consistently ranked as one of the lowest-performing employees. He had diabetes, which sometimes made him miss work. He was also absent for unrelated reasons.

Allen was written up for several work problems, including a safety violation when he was caught without steel-toed safety shoes. He also earned reprimands for not following call-in procedures when he knew he would miss a shift.

At a meeting called to discuss the problems, Allen got angry. His supervisor ordered him to leave the facility. Allen was fired the next day.

He sued, alleging that his safety violation was tied to his diabetes. Because his feet sometimes swelled, he couldn’t always wear the safety shoes. He argued that the employer should have accommodated his need to wear other shoes, and that using the shoe incident against him amounted to disability discrimination.

The employer pointed out that Allen never told his supervisor he needed an accommodation and therefore wasn’t entitled to one.

The court agreed and tossed out Allen’s lawsuit. Employers aren’t required to guess about an accommodation if the employee never requests one. (Bradley v. Little Rock Wastewater Utility, et al., No. 12-1405, 8th Cir., 2013)

Final note: Treat all employees as if they aren’t disabled unless the employee has asked for an accommodation. Other­­wise, you risk “regarding” someone as disabled when he or she is not. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to discuss possible accommodations if the employee brings up a need. Ask for his or her suggestions, and seek out expert advice.

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