Reasonable accommodation and the interactice process in disability situations has captured the EEOC’s attention. And it should also capture the attention of employers and HR people.
A Tampa hospital has just been sued by the EEOC for refusing to accommodate a nurse’s request for a reasonable accommodation based upon a disability for which she needed a cane (and had been using one at the hospital for two years). She was refused an assignment to a vacant position for which she was qualified, and then fired.
The hospital claims that the cane was unsafe and could be used as a weapon.
An EEOC attorney stated: “Employers are required by federal law to make reasonable accommodations for their employees’ disabilities where they pose no undue hardship on the employer, including reassigning employees to vacant positions for which they are qualified.”
The EEOC also announced that a Dollar General Store in Indiana has agreed to settle a disability case for $47,500. In that case, the employee had dyslexia and asked for an accommodation when required to take a test – assistance in reading the test. The company refused this request and when the employee refused to take the test without such assistance he was demoted.
The EEOC alleged that the company failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation, and noted that “In this case, the employee wanted to work and performed well. Dollar General however, did not engage in the interactive accommodation process with him.”
Takeaway: When there is a request for an accommodation by an employee with a disability (check your jurisdiction to see if “disability” under state or local law is broader than the ADA — as it is in NYC) an employer must engage in a dialogue with the employee — an interactive priocess — to determine if there is a reasonable accommodation available that imposes no undue hardship on the employer. It is not an easy process sometimes, but it must be done before an employer declares “undue hardship” and rejects the request for an accommodation.