Did an ADA disability justify repeated absences?

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

ADA disabilities require reasonable accommodations

HR Manager Milt Walker sighed. Production worker G.B. Appleton had sent in yet another return-to-work form with yet another estimated date when he’d be back after foot surgery related to his diabetes.

Milt had been waiting for G.B. for a month, and now he was saying it’d be two more weeks.

“Enough is enough,” Milt muttered, picking up the phone.
“G.B., it’s Milt Walker,” he said. “I got your latest return-to-work form. We can’t go on like this.”

“I know it’s been three months since my operation,” G.B. said. “But I promise you this time I’ll be back. My foot is feeling a lot better.”

ADA compliance doesn’t have make unreasonable accommodations

“I can’t accept more delay,” Milt said. “Your unexcused absences are out of control. Also, you wrote that you’ll need to sit down half the time. Not possible. Your job is done standing.
“Sorry, but we have to terminate you,” Milt concluded.

G.B. spoke up. “I have a disability,” he said stiffly. “The law says you have to take that into account.”

“What, we haven’t?” Milt shot back. “When you first had foot problems two years ago, we let you keep medication in the office. We let a nurse come to the plant to put in your IV line when you needed it. And we upgraded the machinery so you could do less lifting. That’s a lot of accommodation.”

“If at the end you just fire me, you might as well have done nothing,” G.B. said. “My diabetes isn’t going away. I have to deal with it, and so do you.”

“We don’t have to put up with endless absences,” Milt said.

G.B. sued, claiming the company failed to accommodate his disability.

Did he win?

No. The court threw G.B.’s ADA lawsuit out without a trial.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabled workers.

But in this case, the court said, G.B. wanted an unreasonable accommodation.

Regular attendance was a job requirement, and expecting Milt to put up with patchy attendance wasn’t reasonable.
Nor was it reasonable for G.B. to expect to sit down on a job that required standing up. The job couldn’t be modified without revamping the whole assembly line, an expensive endeavor.

What to ask with ADA disability accommodation?

When deciding on a disability accommodation, you and your line managers should ask yourselves:

• Does the accommodation the employee has requested allow him or her to perform the essential functions of the job?

• Does it create undue hardship for the company? You don’t have to recreate your whole operation to suit one disabled person.
• Can you come up with an alternative accommodation without substantial disruption or expense? Studies have shown that more than half of all accommodations cost less than $500.

Cite: Brannon v. Luco Mop Co., No. 07-1434, 8th Cir., 4/3/08. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

Issue 6.21 DOP 6-23-08

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