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Employers: Are You Analyzing Your Employees’ ADA Accommodation Requests Too Narrowly? Beware of This Pitfall!

By: Lori Welty, Compliance Counsel and Marti Cardi, Chief Compliance Officer

When an employee approaches your HR representative with a request for a disability-related accommodation, does HR only consider whether the request relates to the employee’s ability to do his or her job? According to the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, this may be too narrow of a review. Employers have a broad obligation to accommodate a disabled employee’s reasonable request for accommodation, even where the accommodation does not relate the employee’s ability to perform the job.

In Feist v. State of Louisiana, (5th Cir. 2013), Pauline Feist’s employer, the Louisiana Department of Justice, argued that Feist’s request for on-site parking as a result of her osteoarthritis of the knee did not require accommodation since the parking situation did not limit her ability to perform the essential functions of her job. Feist countered that the ADA did not require a relationship between the accommodation and her ability to perform her job. The 5th Circuit agreed, finding that a reasonable accommodation includes making work facilities readily accessible to an individual with a disability.  The Court noted that the requirement to provide a reasonable accommodation is defined and interpreted broadly, enabling an employee to “enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.”  This decision is consistent with the outcome in Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp., (3rd Cir. 2010), where the Court held that changing an employee’s shifts to accommodate a disability-related difficulty in getting to work (meeting bus schedules) is an accommodation contemplated by the ADA.

Caution for Employer: Accommodation Need Not Be Related to the Employee’s Ability to Perform the Job

Employers should exercise caution when considering an employee’s request for accommodation.  Keep in mind that providing an employee equal access to the benefits and privileges of employment is key, even where those benefits do not relate directly to the employee’s ability to perform his or her job.


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