Employees who have disabilities and may need accommodations don’t have to use their organization’s formal process to make requests. In fact, any statement that could be interpreted as a request for an accommodation should start the interactive accommodations process that the ADA requires.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania employers, has said that an employer is on notice when an employee makes a request “in plain English.” The request does not have to mention the ADA or even contain the words “reasonable accommodation.” Instead, employer obligations are triggered when the employee lets a supervisor or manager know he has a disability and may need help.
That’s why it is essential for managers to notify HR if they think an employee is requesting an accommodation.
Recent case: Brice Boice, who has diabetes, also had a handicap placard for his car. When a supervisor changed the rules so no one could park in the alley behind the workplace, forcing employees to park farther away, Boice told him he had a handicap tag and needed a handicap parking spot. The supervisor dismissed the request by stating that there weren’t any.
Then Boice was switched from the day to the night shift and told the same supervisor he needed a steady shift for medical reasons. Again, the boss summarily dismissed the request.
Boice never filed a formal internal accommodation request, although he knew his employer had such a process. Still, the court said he had an accommodations case. Employees don’t have to specifically state they want an accommodation, nor do they have to use the company’s process to start the ball rolling. (Boice v. SEPTA, No. 05-4772, ED PA, 2007)