Does being Americans with Disability Act compliant mean a long lunch?

by on January 7, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

ADA compliance does not require major business changes

Royce Burton’s wheelchair bumped the door frame as he rolled into HR manager Winnie Farrell’s office.

“Royce, I called you in because your tardies are out of control,” Winnie said.
“You’ve been late returning from lunch 24 times in six months. I’m afraid we have to terminate you from your customer service job, effective today.”

“I really need this job,” Royce said. “I have so many medical expenses, with my brittle bone condition.” “I appreciate how hard it is for you with your disability,”

Winnie said. “But we honestly don’t believe you can do the job, based on your record for
lateness. Customer service falls apart if the reps aren’t there punctually.”

“But all I asked for was 15 minutes leeway returning from lunch,” Royce said.

“This building isn’t well designed for handicapped access – narrow corridors and tight turns – and it takes me longer than the others to get back.

“Surely that’s not an unreasonable accommodation,” Royce went on. “If I’d had an extra quarter hour, I’d have only three tardies – and that’s well within the attendance policy.”

ADA Compliance versus Business Requirements

“Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound unreasonable,” Winnie said. “Except for one thing – punctuality is a no compromises requirement of the job. If we let you be less than punctual, we open a door for others to do the same.”

“We aren’t obliged to accommodate your disability if it means overhauling the whole business,” Winnie concluded.

“And you haven’t suggested any other way we could accommodate you.”

Royce quivered with emotion. “I don’t want to do it, but if you force me, I’ll sue you for disability
discrimination,” he said.

Later, he filed an ADA lawsuit. Did he win?

ADA LAW DECISION

Yes, Royce won his ADA lawsuit for failure-to accommodate. A jury awarded him back wages and $100,000 in damages for emotional distress. The court agreed with the company
that punctuality was indeed an essential function of the customer service job. But, the court added, Royce could have been punctual if the company had granted the reasonable accommodation under ADA guidelines he asked for.

Giving him an extra 15 minutes for lunch would not eliminate the punctuality requirement, the court noted. It would merely set a different time for him to return from his break.

Contrary to the company’s argument, the court said, “this modified work schedule would not create an open-ended schedule where (Royce) would be free to return from his lunch at his pleasure or at unpredictable times.”

Moreover, the court added, Royce wasn’t obliged to offer the company a menu of accommodations from which it could choose.

What’s reasonable for ADA compliance?

So what constitutes a reasonable accommodation for both an employee’s disability and a company’s ADA compliance?

Generally, an accommodation is reasonable if it doesn’t require the employer to substantially change the way it operates.

Granting an employee extra time on break might be unreasonable for certain jobs, but for this one, it wasn’t.

Cite: EEOC v. Convergys Customer

Issue 6.2 DOP 9-6-07

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