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Lawsuit alleges ADA violation? Check if employee actually requested accommodation

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations for disabilities in order to perform the essential functions of their jobs. But employers don’t have to guess whether an employee needs an accommodation—the employee must ask for help.

Simply because someone shows up wearing a brace isn’t enough to trigger the interactive accommodations process, for example.

Recent case: Shirley worked for years as a hospital nurse. Her life was at times chaotic and tragic. One son was murdered and another committed suicide. During her periods of stress and tragedy, she asked for and was allowed to take protected FMLA leave. She was also treated more leniently than other nurses, even though she repeatedly broke workplace rules.

Then she began showing up for work wearing a wrist brace. She also presented a doctor’s note requesting that she not have to lift obese patients. The employer immediately removed such patients from her care.

Nothing in the doctor’s note explained the brace. The hospital had a policy against wearing any arm or wrist braces because of potential infection control risks and told her she needed to remove it, which she did.

She was fired shortly afterward because she allegedly made a critical mistake.

Shirley sued, alleging failure to accommodate the brace.

But the court said that she never requested an accommodation to wear the brace or explained why she was using it. Her ADA claim was therefore tossed out. (Zalenski v. Wilkes-Barre Hospital, MD PA, 2017)

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