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New boss isn’t a reasonable accommodation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employees who claim that the stress of working for a particular supervisor exacerbates or even creates a disability sometimes think they can request a new boss as a reasonable accommodation. After all, if one supervisor “caused” the disability, then having a different one might “cure” it, allowing the employee to successfully perform her job again.

But courts don’t see it that way. Such an accommodation is unreasonable and interferes with the employer’s ability to manage its staff.

Recent case: Brenda was a hairdresser at a nursing home. She alleged that her supervisor constantly har­­assed and bullied her to the point she had to take FMLA leave to deal with the stress and emotional turmoil.

Brenda then claimed she was disabled and could only return to work if she were assigned to a new supervisor. The employer rejected her request. When Brenda refused to return, she was terminated.  

She sued, alleging refusal to accommodate her disability.

The court tossed out Brenda’s claim. It reasoned that she wanted to set the conditions of her own em-ployment, particularly with whom she was willing to work. That’s the employer’s prerogative, not the employee’s, the court reasoned. Requesting a new supervisor was so unreasonable that the em­­ployer didn’t even have to come up with a counter-accommodation, since Brenda said she wouldn’t return unless her condition was met. (Dart v. County of Lebanon, et al., No. 13-CV-02930, MD PA, 2014)

Note: Ordinarily, employers are expected to engage in an interactive accommodation process, during which they examine the worker’s claimed disability, assess what accommodation may be needed and then offer a counter if the employee’s suggestion isn’t reasonable (or even the em­­ployer’s preferred accommodation).

But sometimes, that’s clearly not necessary if the employee makes a take-it-or-leave-it accommodation demand.

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