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How to make sure request for ADA accommodations blows up: Do nothing

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

The ADA requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations if those accommodations allow disabled employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs.

And while the law does not require offering every disabled employee the specific accommodation she requests, it does require the employer to sit down with the employee to discuss possible accommodations. It also requires employers that reject a proposed accommodation to either suggest an alternative or show that any accommodation would be an undue hardship.

Flat-out ignoring an accommodation request is the absolutely wrong thing to do.

Instead, carefully consider every request. Reject an accommodation request only if it is certain that it would pose an undue hardship (because of cost or other barriers) or wouldn’t help the employee perform the essential functions of her job.

Recent case: Pearlie Talley worked for a Family Dollar store as a cashier and had a series of medical mishaps that led to long medical leaves. She has degenerative osteoarthritis in her cervical and lumbar spine. She tore a ligament in her knee and had a heart attack, plus quadruple bypass surgery.

Still, she returned to her job after several medical leaves. Then one day she slipped on the freshly waxed floor at work. Her injury left her unable to stand for more than 15 minutes without severe pain. She brought a stool to work and sometimes used it while checking customers out.

Then co-workers told managers they thought Talley was getting special privileges. Management told her she couldn’t use the stool unless she got a doctor’s note, so she brought one in. But Talley said her manager refused to read it, and then told her she couldn’t use the stool. He also told her she’d have to come to a meeting to discuss the matter. Instead she went home.

Over the next few days, she called to try to set up the meeting, but it never happened. Instead, she was terminated for abandoning her job.

Talley sued, alleging that Family Dollar had refused to make a reasonable accommodation.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial. It said the company was at least obligated to discuss whether the stool would allow her to perform her job, and couldn’t simply refuse to help her without explaining why using the stool or some other accommodation would be an undue hardship. (Talley v. Family Dollar Stores, No. 07-3971, 6th Cir., 2008)

Final note: What should you do if you get complaints from co-workers about accommodations “favoritism"? Don’t discuss disabilities or any limitations with anyone other than the disabled employee. Instead, simply say that the issue is between the company and the employee, and that it does not concern her co-workers.

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