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OK to terminate if ADA accommodation fails

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Sometimes, a disabled employee simply cannot perform his or her job to the standards you legitimately expect. If you make reasonable accommodations and try to find a way for the employee to successfully perform the essential functions of the job, you have done all you are required to do. You can terminate the employee for poor performance.

Recent case: Hoa worked as a custodian for several years and began to experience back and neck pain. His doctors recommended light-duty work that required lifting no more than 10 pounds. His employer provided just such a modified job for four months.

When Hoa still couldn’t do the job, he was allowed to take a fully paid nine-month disability leave. He then returned to work with a 50-pound lifting restriction. His employer provided help when Hoa was called upon to lift heavy objects.

Meanwhile, Hoa’s performance began to decline. He admitted that he wasn’t doing his job as well as expected, but ascribed some of that to his physical condition. Eventually, he was terminated because of poor performance.

Hoa sued, alleging disability discrimination and failure to accommodate.

He lost the case. The court said the employer had done everything it was required to do. It provided extended paid leave, as well as lifting help. The court said the rest was up to Hoa, who had to prove that with reasonable accommodations he was able to perform the essential functions of the job. He couldn’t and therefore was not a qualified disabled individual. (Doan v. San Ramon Valley School Dis­­trict, No. 13-03866, ND CA, 2014)

Final note: Be patient with disabled employees. Carefully consider possible accommodations. Revise them if needed. Document how well or poorly the employee is handling his job before make a final termination decision.

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