Employee with bad back asked to be excused from mopping floors

by on April 8, 2013 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

“I’m telling you, it hurts,” assistant store manager Ralph Morris told his boss, Gary Eitzman. “I have to twist my torso around when I mop the floor, and it aggravates my back condition. I’m not BS-ing you.”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Gary said. “The problem is your co-workers. Frankly, they don’t understand why you should be excused from mopping at the end of the day, when they all have to take their turn doing it.”

“They don’t have back pain like I do!” Ralph protested. “Every time I mop I get shooting pains that are plain excruciating. If you keep making me do it, I’m going to hurt myself real bad one day.”

Solid performance
“And another thing,” Ralph went on. “It’s not like mopping is my main job or anything. I have a lot of other duties, and I think I perform them well. Why can’t you take just this one thing off me?”

“I agree that you’re very good at managing our people when I’m not here, and with customers,” Gary said. “This is no reflection on your abilities.”

“I just don’t want to stir up unnecessary trouble,” the supervisor went on. “When I excused you from mopping for a couple of weeks last year – you remember, when your back was hurting especially badly – several people said it wasn’t right for one person to get special consideration. If I let you off as a regular thing, there’ll be resentment.”

‘Work with me here’
“But isn’t it your job to explain the situation to people?” Ralph said. “When I worked at the other store, my manager was willing to work with me about a couple of physical tasks that were hard on my back. He got others to do them.”

“You don’t need to tell me my job,” Gary said briskly. “I’ll think about it, but I don’t see how I can let you off mopping all the time.”

Two weeks later, Ralph badly injured his back while mopping the floor. He was unable to work at all for six months. At the end of that time, the company put him on a year’s medical leave, and then terminated him.

Ralph sued, claiming the company failed to accommodate his disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Did he win?

Check out "ADA Accommodations: Supervisors and the Interactive Process" for FREE and arm your team with the knowledge they need to protect worker rights and avoid legal trouble.

The Decision
Yes, Ralph won his disability lawsuit. A jury awarded him $300,000 in damages and $115,000 in back pay, and a federal appeals court later confirmed the verdict.

The courts said the company should have tried to accommodate Ralph’s request to be excused from mopping the floor, which was the only accommodation he was seeking. What other employees felt was irrelevant.

Disability accommodations for one employee can be tricky if they result in changes in workplace routine that disturb the work patterns of others. It’s up to supervisors to show leadership and explain that the changes are necessary to comply with federal law.

Don’t, however, go into detail about the disability or disabilities of the employee, or even say that the changes are the result of an ADA accommodation. You are not allowed to disclose such information, although the employee can do so if he or she wishes.

Cite: EEOC v. AutoZone Inc., No. 12-1017, 7th Cir., 12/15/13. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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