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“It Depends” – A Case Study on Reasonable Accommodation

It depends. These two simple words are frequently my first response to clients seeking advice when we are their outsourced HR department. “It depends” is usually the correct answer in Human Resources because there are so many shades of gray when managing people - our human assets. This response is typically followed by a list of questions designed to help the HR professional understand the specifics of the situation so that a legally sound response can be articulated.

I’ve recently dealt with a rather complicated series of requests for reasonable accommodation for one particular client. And my answer to the initial query by the manager was, in fact, “it depends." This case has caused me to review my Americans with Disabilities (ADA) checklist, investigate current case law and consult an attorney.

ADA claims are on the rise, triggered by the enactment of the ADA Amendments Act in 2008. Before this expansion of the law, the percentage of EEOC charges involving disability claims hovered around 20 percent. As of 2013, the percentage is up to 28! Beyond legal compliance, it is good business practice to employ and retain the “qualified” disabled in your workplace. A review of my recent case will outline tips for successful reasonable accommodation:
  • Initially, the employee asked her boss to not work any shift after dark because of a medical condition causing nocturnal visual problems.
  • The essential functions, documented in a written job description of the position held by the employee, included the transportation of product from one location to another multiple times during each shift.
  • The employee did not want to disclose the medical condition to the employer. It was explained that the employee must document that the condition is covered under the law before an accommodation is considered.
  • Medical documentation was requested from the provider after obtaining a release from the employee.
  • The medical provider documented the medical condition that created the “nocturnal visual disturbance” and impacted major life activities.
  • The employer agreed to NOT schedule the employee to work during the evening shift, since transportation of the product was an essential job duty for the position.
  • Secondarily, the employee requested to not work in one of the specific locations of the employer because the heat exposure was exacerbating her medical symptoms associated with the covered disability.
  • Additional medical information and further input on potential reasonable accommodations was requested from the provider based on this second request.
  • The employee is now restricted to work in environments with a controlled temperature of no more than 74 degrees.
The key lesson learned is that employers must engage their employees in an interactive process to find a workable solution. There is absolutely no requirement to hire or to continue to employ anyone NOT qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. So, it’s critical to maintain up-to-date job descriptions outlining the essential duties as a foundation and a starting point for analysis. Then, you can evaluate whether or not an employee-requested reasonable accommodation creates an undue hardship. (By the way, what might be “hard” to do may not qualify as an undue hardship!)  The interactive process may also include further dialogue with the medical provider as employees might request an accommodation that isn’t medically sound.  Finally, the process takes patience and everyone involved must be committed to revisiting the situation and the accommodations based on changing medical conditions.

The real answer for your ADA reasonable accommodations question is “it depends.”

--- Tracy Lindow, The Centre Group
Posted: 9/22/2014 10:00:00 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: accommodation, ADA, business, council, depends, human, it, reasonable, resources, small

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Your business may be small, but that doesn't mean that your impact can't be huge! The Greater Memphis Chamber's Small Business Council serves to encourage, support, recognize and be a resource to small- and medium-sized businesses in the Memphis area. Here, our talented panel of contributors will present big ideas that could make a huge difference to your small business. And don't be afraid to ask questions ... no matter how small.

Sales & Small Business Ownership
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Human Resources
Joel Myers is a career Human Resources professional, with over 40 years in the field including 26 years in consulting.

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Fisher Phillips attorneys are ready to help you take a stand: in court, with employees and unions, or with competitors. Fisher Phillips has the experience and resolve to back you up. That's why some of the savviest employers come to the firm to handle their toughest labor and employment cases. The firm has 350 attorneys in 32 offices, including Memphis. For more information, visit

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