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Bathroom breaks may be mandatory

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Welcome another set of employees to those covered by the ADA: employees who have bladder problems and cannot be far from a restroom at any given time. An employer will have to decide whether a particular employee’s need for bathroom breaks means she can’t perform the essential functions of her job or should be reasonably accommodated.

Recent case: Suzanne Wirtz worked on a Ford automobile assembly line and began taking frequent bathroom breaks due to an incurable medical condition. Her breaks were taking a toll, especially when no quick replacement was available.

Ford asked for proof of medical disability, and Wirtz provided it. But the company still refused to accommodate her needs, reasoning that it couldn’t shut down production lines just because of Wirtz’s frequent need for the ladies’ room. She sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The court ordered a trial after determining that, in principle, the frequent need to urinate could be a disability. It cited a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals case holding that lack of bowel control is a disability. The court said a jury should decide if reasonable accommodations were possible, such as using area supervisors to cover Wirtz’s duties during breaks. (Wirtz v. Ford Motor Company, No. 05-40324, ED MI, 2008)

Final note: In most cases, bladder-impaired employees can be readily accommodated. Most office workers, for example, should be able to handle the problem with a quick trip to the restroom. But things get more difficult on the assembly line or in jobs requiring phone coverage. Employers will have to decide whether they want to risk an ADA lawsuit or find a way to have someone else step in while the employee answers the call of nature.

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