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Nov 25, 2015

By Eric B. Meyer

Several years ago, I attended a continuing legal education event at which a panel of attorneys discussed accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I remember the law-firm attorneys talking about how the ADA only requires that an employer provide a reasonable accommodation — not necessarily the employee’s first choice of reasonable accommodations.

Then the general counsel on the panel — he was from a Fortune 500 company — did one ofthese, and offered this pro tip that I’ll never forget:

Often, it’s not worth the fight. If an employee with a bad back asks for a chair. You know what? We give him the chair. It’s that easy.”

An accommodation must be effective AND reasonable

So, when I read this case yesterday about a postal worker with a bad neck, whose request for a swivel chair was refused because the government claimed that the other accommodations it provided were sufficient, I was amazed. Separately, a federal judge politely put the government in its place:

Defendant is correct that an employer is not required to provide the employee’s preferred accommodation, but this argument misses a key component of the reasonable accommodation analysis. In order to be reasonable, the accommodation must be effective (i.e., it must address the job-related difficulties presented by the employee’s disability). The mere fact that the USPS provided Plaintiff with some accommodations does not relieve it of the responsibility to provide an effective, reasonable accommodation.”

And, as it turns out, the accommodations that the government provided to the plaintiff still required him to twist his neck. Thus, the government will have the chance to explain to a jury why it didn’t provide the plaintiff with a swivel chair to allow him to perform his job.

Why it makes sense to accommodate what the employee wants

So, here’s why it makes sense to provide an employee with their request of reasonable accommodation:

  1. You can continue to run your business without wasting any extra psychic energy.
  2. If it turns out that the employee’s choice of accommodation does not allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job, he’s not a qualified individual under the ADA. Termination of employment will be much easier.
  3. Otherwise, you’re appeasing the employee by giving him exactly what he asks for. Happy employee; happy you.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

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