Tag Archives: reasonable accommodation

NEW GUIDANCE: Washington State Attorney General Publishes New Guide on Pregnancy Accommodations

The Washington State Attorney General recently published a Guide (“Pregnant Workers’ Accommodation Rights”) which outlines pregnant employees’ civil rights under the Washington Healthy Starts Act.

As a refresher, the Washington Healthy Starts Act requires Washington employers with at least 15 employees in Washington state provide accommodations to pregnant employee, regardless of a pregnancy disability.  Among the accommodations to be provided include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing more frequent, longer, or flexible restroom breaks;
  • Modifying a no food or drink policy;
  • (Job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, or acquiring or modifying equipment, devices, or an employee’s workstation;
  • Providing seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently if her job requires her to stand;
  • Providing for a temporary transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous position;
  • Providing assistance with manual labor and limits on lifting;
  • Scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits; and
  • Any further pregnancy accommodation an employee may request, and to which an employer must give reasonable consideration in consultation with information provided on pregnancy accommodation by the department of labor and industries or the attending health care provider of the employee.

Continue reading NEW GUIDANCE: Washington State Attorney General Publishes New Guide on Pregnancy Accommodations

NEW CASE: Court Reminds Employers That Reasonable Accommodation ≠ Employee’s Demand Where There Are Other Reasonable Alternatives

In a recent case (Sessoms v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, employers are not required to provide the accommodation requested by the employee.  Instead, after engaging in the interactive process, employers may choose among reasonable accommodations as long as the chosen accommodation is effective.

In this case, an employee had been out on a medical leave of absence relating to her disability.  Prior to returning to work, the employee engaged in the interactive process with her employer (the university) and requested that she be provided a part-time schedule and that she be transferred to a different supervisor in a “lower-stress department/office” as a reasonable accommodation for her disability.

The university agreed to provide the employee with a part-time schedule, but the university did not grant the employee’s request to change supervisors.  The university offered the employee several different accommodations (all of which involved reporting to her current supervisor), but the employee refused to accept any accommodation that involved her reporting to her current supervisor.  Ultimately, after making several attempts to get the employee to accept the offered accommodation, the employee was terminated.  The employee later sued the university for disability discrimination. Continue reading NEW CASE: Court Reminds Employers That Reasonable Accommodation ≠ Employee’s Demand Where There Are Other Reasonable Alternatives

NEW GUIDANCE: South Carolina Publishes FAQs For New State Pregnancy Accommodations Act

Earlier this year, South Carolina passed an amendment to the state’s Human Affairs Law, which requires employers with at least 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with a “pregnancy-related condition” (i.e.  medical needs arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions), unless the employer can demonstrate the accommodation would impose an undue hardship. (See our article “South Carolina Adds to Existing Pregnancy Accommodation Requirements” for more information about this amendment).

To help employers better understand their obligations under this new law, the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission has published Frequently Asked Questions addressing the new amendment.  It is recommended that all South Carolina employers review these FAQs.

Continue reading NEW GUIDANCE: South Carolina Publishes FAQs For New State Pregnancy Accommodations Act

Failure to provide reasonable accommodation to deaf employee costs Costco $775,000

A Florida jury recently awarded a former Costco employee $775,000 for her claim that the company failed to reasonably accommodate her disability.

The former employee is deaf and she claimed that Costco failed to provide sufficient interpreting services for her at work — specifically during larger group meetings (held via conference call).  While Costco had provided this employee with a video phone, the employee had complained that the video phone did not work properly during larger meetings where there are multiple conversations occurring at the same time.  The employee asked Costco to provide a live interpreter for the large meetings and, while Costco agreed to provide the interpreter, one was never actually provided.

Continue reading Failure to provide reasonable accommodation to deaf employee costs Costco $775,000

Utah Employer Learns A $832,500 Lesson About Disability Discrimination


Associated Fresh Market, Inc. has agreed to pay $832,500 to settle a group of disability discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The charges filed against the company by several employees alleged that Associated Fresh Market had a pattern and practice of denying reasonable accommodations to disabled employees.

The EEOC investigated these charges and found that the company had a practice of denying reasonable accommodations under the ADA.  Specifically, the company required employees to have no restrictions or be 100% ready to return to work before an employee was reinstated following a medical leave of absence.  The company also routinely denied leave as a reasonable accommodation.  Finally, the company frequently refused to reassign employees to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation.

Continue reading Utah Employer Learns A $832,500 Lesson About Disability Discrimination

The EEOC Claims Another Victory in Fight for Disabled Workers

On June 5th, Nevada Restaurant Services, a large Las Vegas-based gaming company that operates slot machines, taverns, and casinos, agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In the suit, the EEOC alleged that by requiring workers with disabilities or medical conditions to be “100% healed” before returning to work the Las Vegas gaming company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC argued that this behavior doesn’t adhere to the ADA’s interactive process, let alone its reasonable accommodation requirement.

Furthermore, the EEOC showed that Nevada Restaurant Services went as far as firing employees because it viewed them as disabled or, in some cases, were simply associated with someone with a disability.

The EEOC’s Fight Moves Onward

Continue reading The EEOC Claims Another Victory in Fight for Disabled Workers

NEW CASE: $4.5 Million Reasons to Engage In the Interactive process (and Provide reasonable Accommodation) to your disabled employees

In a recent California case, employers nationwide are reminded of the importance of engaging in the good faith interactive process and attempting to provide reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee.  California jurors, in a special verdict, recently awarded a disabled former employee a $4.5 million verdict for violating the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) when the employer terminated the employee while she was out on CFRA leave.

The Case

In 2015, the former employee went out on medical leave (CFRA leave) for a broken arm.  Shortly after going out on leave, the former employee was diagnosed with major depression and her treating physician advised her employer that she would require more time off than the 12 weeks provided under the CFRA.

Rather than engage in the interactive process with the employee to try to find a reasonable accommodation (or extend the employee’s leave), the employer terminated the employee when her 12 weeks of CFRA leave expired.  The former employee filed a lawsuit against her employer claiming that she was fired because of her physical and/or mental disabilities, and in retaliation for her taking protected leave for medical treatment.  The employee also claimed that her employer had violated FEHA by failing to engage in the interactive process with her about her disability and by failing to provide her with reasonable accommodation.

The jury agreed with the plaintiff and awarded her the $4.5 million verdict ($546,000 for back and front pay, over $1.9 million in compensatory damages and $2.6 million in punitive damages).

Take Home for Employers

While a California case, this case highlights to all employers the importance of working with employees who require accommodation for a disability (i.e. the importance of engaging in the interactive process).  This case might have been brought under California law, but there are federal laws (i.e. the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family Medical Leave Act) that impose the same requirements on employers.  Under these laws, employers are required to engage in the interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodations are necessary so an employee can perform essential job functions.

The following are important steps to follow when engaging in the interactive process with an employee:

  • Document!!!!! When an employee requests a leave of absence or a reasonable accommodation, document that request.  Also, provide the employee an acknowledgement of the request in writing, to document that the request was received.
  • Talk to the employee about the request. Sit down with the employee and discuss the request and possible accommodation(s) that the company can offer.  Request additional information from the employee (or his healthcare provider) where necessary in order to determine exactly what the employee can (and cannot) do.
  • Document (again)!!!!! After these conversations with the employee, send the employee a confirming memorandum summarizing your conversation, outlining accommodations discussed, and detailing any action items that both the employee and company need to perform in order to continue with the process.
  • Complete the company’s action items AND follow up with the employee. Be sure to complete any action items assigned to the company in the confirming memorandum.  Also, follow up with the employee to check the status of his action items.  Do not assume that the employee will simply complete them, periodically touch base with the employee.  And, as always, document both the company’s actions, but also the follow up conversations with the employee.
  • Repeat this process. This process will need to be repeated until an accommodation is reached or a determination is made that no accommodation is possible.  Remember, under the ADA (and FEHA), a leave of absence is considered a reasonable accommodation.

Remember, the interactive process is a continuing process with your disabled employees.  Just because an accommodation is reached, that does not end the employer’s obligation to engage in the interactive process.  Employers need to follow up with their employees periodically and verify that the selected accommodation is still working for the employee (i.e. enabling the employee to perform the essential functions of the position).  If it isn’t, then the company will need to start the interactive process all over again.

NEW LAW — New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Prohibits Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Employees

On January 8, 2018, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed A2294 into law.  This bill amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) to include breastfeeding to the list of protected classes under the NJLAD.

With this amendment, which went into effect on January 8, 2018, employers are expressly prohibited from engaging in the following conduct:

  • Refusing to hire breastfeeding applicants;
  • Firing an employee because she is breastfeeding or otherwise discriminating against a breastfeeding employee in compensation and other terms, conditions, or privileges of employment; and
  • Treating female employees you know or should know are “affected by breastfeeding” less favorably (e.g. with respect to workplace accommodation and leave policies) than employees not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.

In addition to the foregoing, employers are required to provide breastfeeding employees with reasonable accommodation, including a reasonable break time each day and a private location near the work area (but not a toilet stall) for the employee to express breast milk for her child – unless the employer can demonstrate that providing the accommodation would impose an “undue hardship” on the business.

Under the NJLAD, whether an accommodation is considered an undue hardship is determined by the following factors:

  • The overall size of your business with respect to the number of employees, number and type of facilities, and size of the budget;
  • The type of your operations, including the composition and structure of your workforce;
  • The nature and cost of the accommodation, taking into consideration the availability of tax credits, tax deductions, and outside funding; and
  • The extent to which the accommodation would involve waiver of an essential requirement of a job as opposed to a tangential or non-business necessity requirement.

This is a high standard to meet.

Take home for employers

Since this law went into immediate effect, New Jersey employers should verify that their current employment policies and practices relating to breastfeeding employees are compliant with the new law.

NEW CASE: Connecticut Court Finds Providing Indefinite Leave Is Not A Reasonable Accommodation

In a recent case, Thompson v. Department of Social Services, the Connecticut Appellate Court held that an employer is not required to grant an employee a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation where the employee requests an indefinite leave and does not respond to the employer’s request to contact her regarding her leave.

The Case

The plaintiff was a long-term employee of the Connecticut Department of Social Services and suffered from a chronic health condition that caused her to take medical leaves of absence (including FMLA leave) throughout her employment.

Following the expiration of an FMLA leave in February of 2013, the plaintiff left a note for the HR department advising that she would be taking additional medical leave starting the next day and lasting “over thirty days depending on my lung condition as I need to get well and my lungs better.”  The plaintiff did not speak to the HR Director in person, but left her contact information along with the instruction to “call me if you have any questions.”

The plaintiff also left the completed paperwork requesting additional leave under short-term disability policies.  However, the information on the two forms was conflicting.  On one form, the plaintiff stated that she was unable to return to work until reevaluated by her physician and that the physician expected “significant improvement in her medical condition” in one to two months. On the other form, the physician claimed that the plaintiff’s need for leave would be “ongoing” and she would be able to return to work “when reevaluated”, although no date was provided for the reevaluation.

Upon receipt of the note and the two forms, the HR department informed the plaintiff via certified mail that she was ineligible for extended leave because she did not provide sufficient information to support her need for additional leave.  The letter further advised the plaintiff that her current time off was unauthorized.  The letter also gave the plaintiff 15 days to provide additional medical certification to support her need for additional leave.

The plaintiff did not respond to this letter and her employment was terminated after the expiration of the 15-day period.  The plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit for disability discrimination.

The Holding

The Court that in this case the employer acted properly and that it was not required to provide her with an extended leave of absence when she had, for all intents and purposes, requested an indefinite leave of absence.  Specifically, the court found that her request for leave was not a reasonable accommodation because the plaintiff failed to provide the employer with any time frame for her return and then failed to respond to the employer’s subsequent attempts to contact her regarding her request for leave; thereby depriving the employer of the opportunity to engage in the interactive process with the employee.

Take Home For Employers

This case is significant because it confirms that extending an indefinite leave of absence is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.  However, this holding should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Even though this case was ultimately favorable to employers, it does not mean that employers are not required to extend a leave of absence following the expiration of FMLA as a reasonable accommodation.  Instead, it reminds employers of their obligation to engage in the interactive process with an employee who is seeking an extension of FMLA leave to determine whether extending the leave is a reasonable accommodation.  It further confirms that employers have the right to request that an employee provide reasonable documentation relating to their request for accommodation and they have a duty to explore various accommodations with the employee – one of which may be an extension of a leave of absence.

Finally, here the Court found that the employer’s attempts to engage in the interactive process with the employee (by sending two letters) were enough to make a good faith attempt to communicate with the employee.  However, did the employer really go far enough?  This Court thought yes, but other Courts in other jurisdictions have found that merely sending a letter to an employee is an insufficient attempt and employers should attempt to exhaust other lines of communication as well – like calling the employee on the phone.

If faced with a similar situation (an uncommunicative employee), we recommend that employers try multiple ways (phone, email, text message, letter) to contact the employee before reaching the conclusion that the employee is refusing to cooperate.

NEW CASE: Federal Court Finds Pregnancy Discrimination Act Protects Breastfeeding

In a recent decision (Hicks v. City of Tuscaloosa), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently found that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) bars discrimination not only on the basis of pregnancy, but also on the basis of pregnancy-related physiological conditions such as breastfeeding.

The Case

In this case, the plaintiff was a female police officer who had returned from maternity leave.  Upon her return, the officer requested an alternative duty because her doctor informed her that wearing the required bulletproof vest could cause infection and prevent her from breastfeeding.  The officer had requested to be assigned to a position where wearing a bulletproof vest was not required and the employer refused.  As a result, the officer resigned and filed a lawsuit.

The Holding

The court held that the employer’s refusal to accommodate this employee constituted discrimination under the PDA.  In making this decision, the Court likened the officer’s situation to that of the employee in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (where the U.S. Supreme Court held the PDA bars employers from refusing to accommodate pregnant employees when they provide accommodations for similarly situated employees who are not pregnant.)  Here, the officer was able to show that her employer had provided alternative duties to employees with temporary injuries.  As a result, the Court held the employer’s failure to provide the officer with an alternative duty constituted pregnancy discrimination.

Take Home for Employers

The key for employers to remember here is that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is more expansive than one might initially assume.  Specifically, even if an employee’s pregnancy (or pregnancy-related condition) does not amount to a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the employer still might be required to provide the employee with an accommodation under the PDA.

NOTE:  There are also many state laws that provide protections for pregnant employees.  Before refusing accommodation to a pregnant employee and/or taking any adverse action against that employee, be sure to review the laws in your state.