By Eric B. Meyer
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer must make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an individual unless the employer can show that doing so how cause it undue hardship.
Generally, an employee will initiate the process by advising her employer that she is disabled and needs an accommodation to perform the essential functions of her job. What then ensues is an interactive dialogue in which both sides work together in good faith to decide on what that accommodation may be.
But here’s the rub: The accommodation need only be reasonable; not the employee’s first choice.
When you reject a reasonable accommodation
Here’s an example from a recent decision (in Yovtcheva v. City of Philadelphia Water Department) from the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia:
A chemist had a disability that manifested itself when she became exposed to certain solvents. So, the employer offered her a full-mask respirator. It didn’t work because she was claustrophobic and it caused her to suffer a panic attack.
The employer then offered a partial-mask respirator, which the employee refused without explanation. But, she never suggested that the partial-mask was unreasonable. Instead, she preferred a transfer. Ultimately, she took sick leave and was terminated after she failed to return to work upon exhausting FMLA and her bank of paid time off. So, she sued under the ADA for a failure to accommodation and lost.
In other words, reject the reasonable accommodation at your own risk.
Relying upon an ADA regulation, the Third Circuit reasoned that an individual who rejects a reasonable accommodation “to perform the essential functions of the position held or desired, and cannot, as a result of that rejection, perform the essential functions of the position, the individual will not be considered qualified” for the job.
Have a good faith, interactive dialogue
So, when an employee comes to you requesting an accommodation for a disability, I’m not suggesting that you should wax and twirl your handlebar mustache before offering her an “accommodation.”
But you don’t have to accept her preference either. Instead, truly have an interactive dialogue with the employee to arrive at an accommodation that both sides can live with.
This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.