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ADA: Sometimes, no accommodation will work

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations that allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. The emphasis is on “reasonable.” The law doesn’t require extraordinary measures.

Simply put, some disabled applicants or employees will never be able to perform their jobs. Therefore, they don’t need to be accommodated.

However, you can only reach that conclusion after both sides engage in the interactive accommodations process. If no accommodation will let the person perform the job’s essential functions, you can terminate an employee or reject an applicant.

Recent case: Jeffrey worked as a correctional counselor with the federal Bureau of Prisons. His job re­­quired direct contact with prisoners. His job description included as an essential function the ability to subdue and control prisoners.

Jeffrey developed severe knee and back problems and his doctors de­­clared his condition a permanent disability. He began having to use two metal canes with braces on his fore­­arms, and that led him to express fears about his safety while working in the prison. He was then barred from work.

After evaluating the medical ­in­­for­­mation and taking into account his significant standing and walking restrictions, the bureau concluded that no accommodation would allow Jeffrey to subdue and control unruly prisoners. He was discharged.

Jeffrey sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The court threw out his case, explaining that Jeffrey’s condition made it impossible to do his job since no accommodation could help him control prisoners. (Atkins v. Holder, No. 12-2418, 4th Cir., 2013)

Final note: The accommodations process starts with a job description that specifies which aspects are essential functions. Consider what help the employee needs to perform the job’s essential functions despite his disability. If it’s reasonable, accommodate. If it’s not reasonable—or if no help could make the employee succeed—you may terminate the employee.

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