An interesting question out of Louisiana was posed to the federal court of appeals recently. A government attorney who was acknowledged to be disabled – osteoarthritis of the knee – requested as an accommodation a free on-site parking space. The employer denied this request, arguing that the employee could not show “that the parking situation limited her ability to perform the essential functions of the job.” The lower court agreed with this argument and granted summary judgment for the employer.
However, the appeals court reversed and held that “reasonable accommodations are not restricted to modifications that enable performance of essential job functions.” Citing the language of the ADA that a reasonable accommodation may include: “(A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities,” the Court stated that the ADA “gives no indication that an accommodation must facilitate the essential functions of one’s position.”
The Court concluded that no “nexus between the requested accommodation and the essential functions of [the] position” need be shown. Indeed, it found that “the requested reserved on-site parking would presumably have made her workplace ‘readily accessible to and usable’ by her, and therefore might have been a potentially reasonable accommodation” under the ADA.
Once again we caution employers: you must engage in an interactive process with an employee requesting an accommodation, and do not assume that an accommodation to perform the job must be related to that job’s essential functions.