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Keep careful track of ADA conversations

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Trying to come up with a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee? Need more information on her limitations before you can look for possible open positions that may allow her to work?

Make sure someone takes charge of coordinating the process so nothing falls through the cracks.

Document your attempts to get additional information from the employee. Don’t, for example, rely solely on oral requests. Note those requests in a memo or letter. That way, if the employee doesn’t provide information that will allow you to decide what accommodation is possible, you can show you did your part.

Recent case: Jennifer Armstrong worked for the U.S. Postal Service and developed carpal tunnel syndrome, which restricted her ability to use a computer—an essential part of her job. The Postal Service accommodated her with a janitorial position, but that caused intense back pain. Again, Armstrong’s doctors told the Postal Service she couldn’t do that job.

Over the next few months, her doctors sent regular updates to management and explained what sort of jobs she could perform. At one point, the Postal Service offered Armstrong a desk job answering phones, but then withdrew that offer without explanation. Finally, it terminated her for being absent.

Armstrong sued, alleging failure to accommodate. The Postal Service tried to argue that it hadn’t received enough medical information to make an accommodation. But Armstrong could show that her doctors had sent numerous letters and recommendations—and the Postal Service couldn’t show that it had asked for more information.

The federal court hearing the case concluded Armstrong had been discriminated against based on disability. (Armstrong v. Potter, No. 1:03-CV-597, ND NY, 2008)

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