To receive the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, an individual with a disability must be qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Absent undue hardship, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation.
So, you'd think that the ADA would require a link between a requested accommodation and an essential job function. Well, not so much according to this recent decisionfrom the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a case in which the Attorney General's office refused to accommodate one of its attorneys who requested a parking spot close to the office [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to lexis.com subscribers].
Noting that the text of the ADA specifically contemplates "making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities," without any indication that an accommodation must facilitate the essential functions of one's position, the Fifth Circuit held that the ADA does not require a nexus between the requested accommodation and the essential functions of the position.
Putting all that aside, what bothers me here is that what the plaintiff was requesting on the difficulty scale strikes me as about a 2 out of 10. There are certain accommodation requests which, to me, are no-brainers; e.g., an orthopedic office chair for a bad back, a screen magnifier for vision issues, a wrist rest for carpal tunnel. A closer parking spot for, in this particular case, osteoarthritis of the knee, is hardly worth a fight.
When an employee comes to you with an accommodation request, maybe you should think about the value of the accommodation versus the cost of litigation when you deny it.
This article was originally published on Eric B. Meyer's blog, The Employer Handbook.
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