ADA Compliance comes in many forms

by on December 15, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

ADA Compliant means a warm office?

“Aren’t you exaggerating just a bit?” HR manager Andrea Simowitz said, gazing incredulously at accounting associate Lynn Mayes. Lynn was seated at her desk, wearing a knit cap, gloves and a thick coat. “It’s not that cold in this office.”

Lynn frowned and looked up. “It’s cold enough to make my respiratory problems act up,” she said. “So I’m doing what I can to keep warm.”

“The thermostat for the building is set at 68 degrees,” Andrea said.

“But you know these exterior offices, with all this window space, are a lot colder than that in winter,” Lynn said. “I bet it’s not even 60 degrees in here. I asked you to come to my office so you could see how chilly it is.”

Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance has many settings

“Which reminds me – is anything being done about the request I made for an office in the interior part of the building?” Lynn asked.

“We’re trying to find something,” Andrea said. “I’ll let you know if anything opens up.”

“I asked my supervisor about this six months ago,” Lynn reminded. “Surely there should be something by now. If my lungs get any worse, I’ll have to take time off, and I can’t afford to do that. My asthma has been killing me since the weather turned cold.”

“I never heard of cold causing lung problems,” Andrea said. “But like I said, we’re working on it. You’ll just have to trust your supervisor and me.”

Soon afterward, Lynn went on unpaid medical leave, and filed an ADA lawsuit against the company for failing to accommodate her disability.

Do temperature settings effect ADA compliance?

Yes, Lynn won her disability discrimination case. The company had to pay $58,000 for her lost wages and benefits, plus $10,000 in compensatory damages.
A federal jury believed Lynn’s claim, backed by her doctor, that the cold office exacerbated her asthma and kept her from working. The jury also found that the company could have done something to meet ADA compliance – like giving Lynn a warmer office – but didn’t.

Touchy temperatures
Temperature complaints – it’s too hot, it’s too cold – are common in an era of climate-controlled (often imperfectly controlled) offices. Supervisors – and even HR – may be tempted to dismiss such complaints as mere nuisances.

That’s a mistake. High or low temperature can worsen certain disabilities, and the employer who doesn’t pay attention can be sowing the seeds of an ADA lawsuit.

Supervisors, along with HR, should:

    •determine whether the complainant has a physical condition that may be temperature-sensitive. Some of these are diabetes, lupus, arthritis and asthma. (For a more complete list, see
    •ask what accommodation might work for the person
    •decide whether it’s practical or not.

If it’s not, it’s a good idea to make a counterproposal, to satisfy the “interactive process” requirement of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Benaugh v. Ohio Civil Rights Commission, No. 07-3825,6th Cir., 5/16/08. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

Issue 7-3 DOP 9-1-2008

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