Reasonable Accommodation for Disability – Pay Attention

We have written a number of times about the duty of an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee suffering from a disability.  Most issues of disability discrimination focus on whether or not the employer has provided a reasonable accommodation to the employee and whether the employee can continue to perform their job with the accommodation.  Several recent decisions have again focused on what is a reasonable accommodation and have again emphasized the need for an employer to thoroughly explore the accommodations that are available and make a reasonable effort to assist an employee.

In one decision, the court held that the employer violated the Americans With Disabilities Act because the employer did not allow an employee to keep an orange juice drink at her work station to use if she suffered from a diabetic episode and required something to address the episode in the form of glucose or sugar supplement.  The employer terminated the employee for violating a company policy and ended up paying damages close to $300,000 to the employee and attorney fees close to $500,000.  The court held that the employer failed to provide reasonable alternatives to meet the needs of the employee.

In another decision, a court held that an employer failed to accommodate the mental illness of the employee by allowing two additional 10-minute breaks to the employee to address issues involving interaction with other employees.  The court held that the employer violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate the mental health disability of the employee and awarded more then $300,000 of damages and attorneys fees.  In this case, the employer was found to have regarded the employee as disabled because of her inability to cope with interactions with other employees in the workplace and that the employer needed to accommodate that condition. 

Employers have to be careful when dealing with claims of a need for a reasonable accommodation.  Employers need to look carefully at the request before making a decision to provide some type of accommodation or to refuse providing an accommodation.