Tag Archives: Accommodations at work

Register Today! Reasonable Accommodations: Employer Obligations under the ADA and Beyond — Complimentary Webinar

Join Suzanne Newcomb at noon ET on June 19 for an in-depth look at workplace accommodations, specifically legal obligations, best practices, and emerging trends.

Workplace accommodations take many forms. Most often, accommodations are thought of as modifications which allow individuals with disabilities to perform essential functions of positions for which they are otherwise qualified.

While certainly the most common, workplace accommodations are not limited to an employer’s obligations under the ADA. Accommodations can also allow employees to practice their religious beliefs, allow pregnant employees to continue working until they give birth, allow new mothers to return to work and breastfeed their newborns, and assist transgender employees to navigate workplace obstacles.

During this webinar attendees will learn:

  1. How to determine whether an individual is entitled to ADA protection
  2. How to distinguish between “reasonable” accommodations and those that impose “undue hardship”
  3. How to properly document the ADA-mandated “interactive process”

7th Circuit Affirms Employer Victory: Discharge Proper for Employee Who Could Not Perform Essential Job Function

Contributed by Jonathon Hoag

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) brought broad speculation that a large percentage of employees would qualify as “disabled”  as defined under the amended ADA and employers would have to focus attention on engaging in the interactive process to identify a reasonable accommodation. While it is true that the ADAAA has increased the Injured personimportance of engaging in the interactive process to review possible accommodations, it is still equally important to consider whether the employee is a “qualified individual with a disability” under the ADAAA.  The 7th Circuit’s recently upheld dismissal of a disability claim because the employee could not perform the essential functions of the job and, thus, was not a “qualified individual with a disability.”

The employee started work at an automotive retailer in 2005 and was promoted to Parts Sales Manager (PSM) in 2007. Following her promotion, the employee suffered a work-related injury and in 2009, was permanently restricted from lifting with her right arm anything that weighed over 15 pounds. Her employer terminated her when they were unable to reasonably accommodate her lifting restriction, asserting that lifting was essential to the job.

The EEOC filed suit against the employer alleging it failed to accommodate the employee’s lifting restrictions. As part of its claim, the EEOC was required to prove that they employee was a qualified individual with a disability. Under the ADAAA, this means the EEOC had to prove she could perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

The employer was able to submit substantial evidence to show that lifting objects over 15 pounds was a regular and essential part of the PSM job. Importantly, the employer was able to prove it did not have a practice of reassigning the lifting requirement of the job. If there is evidence that the employee reassigns a task to other employees, the court views this as a strong showing that the task is marginal (and not essential) to the job. The 7th Circuit pointed to numerous cases finding that it is not a reasonable accommodation to require another employee to do the lifting. As a result, the employee was not a qualified individual with a disability under the ADAAA.

The employer prevailed because it had substantial evidence to show lifting was an essential job function and there was no way to reasonably accommodate the employee’s restrictions. The ADAAA certainly places more emphasis on the employer’s obligation to review reasonable accommodations and engage in the interactive process. However, the 7th Circuit’s ruling is a reminder for employers to work with counsel to simultaneously analyze whether the employee is a “qualified individual with a disability.” This threshold issue remains an important component of limiting legal exposure to disability-related employment claims.

EEOC Guidance on Accommodating Employees with HIV/AIDS Provides Excellent Perspective for All Employers

Contributed by Steven Jados

On December 1, 2015, in conjunction with World AIDS Day, the EEOC issued two new guidance documents addressing the legal rights available to employees with HIV/AIDS under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

HIV RibbonWhile these documents specifically reference HIV and AIDS, the reality is that this new guidance has tremendous value to human resources professionals and other management decision-makers who may be faced with accommodation requests based on virtually any medical condition. Moreover, although the guidance is not specifically directed to employers, again the truth is that this guidance describes in great depth the basic considerations employers must make when evaluating issues that may involve ADA-protected rights.

First and foremost, the guidance makes clear that employers must base employment decisions, including decisions on hiring, termination, and whether to grant reasonable accommodations, on objective evidence, not medical myths or stereotypes. Employers simply are not permitted to speculate or guess on matters relating to how a medical condition affects an employee’s job performance.

The guidance also provides excellent detail in terms of what information an employer can require from a health care provider in the context of an employee’s reasonable accommodation request. Such information can include descriptions of how the employee’s condition functionally limits his or her performance of job functions and major life activities, and how the condition makes a particular change at work or a certain accommodation medically necessary.

The bottom line is that the EEOC’s new guidance provides a solid perspective on how an employer should respond to virtually any employee’s exercise of ADA rights, regardless of the underlying medical condition. This guidance also gives clear insight into the approach the EEOC is likely to take when it receives a discrimination charge that alleges ADA violations. As such, employers should give careful consideration to this guidance in advance of making any decision on an employee’s request for an accommodation, and before taking any employment action that may relate to an employee’s medical condition.

The documents discussed above are entitled “Living with HIV Infection: Your Legal Rights in the Workplace Under the ADA” and “Helping Patients with HIV Infection Who Need Accommodations at Work.