Our August 5th post  entitled “What Happens When An Employee Rejects An Offered Accommodation Because She Prefers A Different One?” drew a number of comments from readers from Washington to Nigeria.  The City trial attorney in this case even sent in a comment.

We reported on a new court decision which held that “[a]n employer is not obligated to provide an employee the accommodation he requests or prefers, the employer need only provide some reasonable accommodation.”  In that case, a lab employee who could not work with irritating chemicals rejected a full face respirator offered by the employer because of her claim that she suffered from claustrophobia and panic attacks from wearing it; and refused to even try out a partial face respirator.   She sought other accommodations.

We asked whether the employee’s claustrophobia and panic attacks might be considered disabilities such that any type of facial respirator would not be a reasonable accommodation and that perhaps her alternate proposals should have been considered. We also wondered whether the outcome of the case should have turned on the fact that the employee did not even try the partial face respirator, and asked what if the employee had, in fact, tried it and suffered the predictable claustrophobia and panic attacks.

Here are some sample reader comments.

Cara Leheny, Divisional Deputy City Solicitor at the City of Philadelphia Law Department, was the City attorney who handled this case at the trial level.  She writes:

“The blog entry raises a good point about what would have happened if the plaintiff had tried the partial face respirator and still had the panic attacks. During her deposition, she testified that she did not seek treatment for her alleged claustrophobia and panic attacks. I don’t know how the issue would have played out if she tried the partial respirator, supposedly had the panic attack (no one ever observed the alleged attacks), and then refused to get any treatment for the claustrophobia (in this case, a transfer wasn’t possible because the other labs used organic solvents (and her doctor’s note said all organic solvents were potential triggers — she didn’t suggest a substitution of solvents until her WC hearing, held months after she was separated for failing to return from a leave of absence)). Under this scenario, I suspect the trial court would have denied summary judgment.

But it raises an interesting issue–as part of the interactive process, does the plaintiff have any responsibility in making a proffered accommodation work (emphasis added)?”

Ed Dinep, an HR and labor expert in the Washingon, DC area, commented:  “After reading the article I would say the court got it right. The employee should have done one of two things: 1) try the partial respirator, or 2) provide medical documentation stating the partial respirator would not work. If an employee refuses a reasonable accommodation, the agency no longer has a requirement to continue an accommodation dialogue.”

Red_Rider,otherwise unidentified, wrote:

“Wouldn’t the employee need to produce medical evidence to support her claims of claustrophobia and panic attacks to trigger the need to accommodate? Although I recognize that accommodation is an interactive process, the law obligates the employer to provide a reasonable accommodation; not the employee’s preferred accommodation. Further, the employee has an obligation to work with the employer to achieve a workable solution. When an employee flat out refuses a proposed reasonable accommodation and stops coming to work, the employee is refusing to participate in the interactive process. I think the court reached the only possible result given the facts described.”

Claudia Orr, an employment attorney from the Detroit area, recalled:  “I had a nearly identical case, but the employee (who worked in an office and had an allergy to perfume and other scents like air fresheners) claimed that the full face respirator was intended to humiliate her … So whether it would work or not may not be the only issue!”

Oluwagbemiga Olaoba, a “legal practitioner” in Nigeria, said:

“I really like this discussion, and in my own jurisdiction, you really have to consider yourself lucky to be offered accommodation by your employer, so even if the accommodation is not to standard, you have to thank God that your employer thought it wise to give such a grant. However, if you happen not to like the state of the accommodation, the best thing is to inform your employer that you have a place already, if not, that marks the end of generosity from the employer. Just giving the honest opinion from my jurisdiction.”