The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as state and local laws, requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Employees are able to request specific reasonable accommodations, but employers are not required to provide all requests as they may choose among these reasonable accommodations or provide alternatives (as long as the reasonable accommodation is effective).
In a recent court case, Sessoms v. Trustees of the Univ. of Pennsylvania (June 20, 2018), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (covering DE, NJ & PA) ruled in favor of the University of Pennsylvania saying they demonstrated good faith in its negotiations on reasonable accommodations for their employee. The employee, who suffered from mental and physical disabilities as well as having difficulties with her supervisor, requested that the University of Pennsylvania allow her to work on a part-time basis, before returning to full-time, after her medical leave and to transfer her to a new, “lower-stress” department under a new supervisor.
The University of Pennsylvania chose to accommodate her request for a part-time schedule but kept her in the same position under the same supervisor. The employee declined this reasonable accommodation and was ultimately terminated. She filed the lawsuit claiming they did not engage in a good-faith effort to reasonably accommodate her requests/disabilities. As already stated, the court ruled in the University of Pennsylvania’s favor and concluded that the employee did not provide evidence of other available positions and that her unwillingness to accept the part-time schedule which included working under the same supervisor was unreasonable.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) already stated long before this that an employer is not required to provide the requested reasonable accommodations and can instead consider alternatives, stating that:
“If there are two possible reasonable accommodations, and one costs more or is more burdensome than the other, the employer may choose the less expensive or burdensome accommodation as long as it is effective (i.e., it would remove a workplace barrier, thereby providing the individual with an equal opportunity to apply for a position, to perform the essential functions of a position, or to gain equal access to a benefit or privilege of employment). Similarly, when there are two or more effective accommodations, the employer may choose the one that is easier to provide.”
So, before rejecting an employee’s request for reasonable accommodation, discuss the request and propose effective alternatives, if necessary, with the employee to find a common ground and an acceptable reasonable accommodation that truly meets their needs and capabilities.