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Managing job accommodation requests

Gavel to Gavel

published in The Journal Record | August 24, 2023

By Charlie Plumb

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to consider and offer reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship upon the employer’s operations. Potential accommodations can include such things as job restructuring, schedule modification, or unpaid leave. More often than not, employees asking for some form of job modification due to a health condition request a particular type. But that’s not always what they get. Take this recent ADA accommodation lawsuit brought by a UPS delivery driver.

The driver in this case suffered from a lower back condition. When a better padded and supported driver seat did not solve the problem, he asked to be assigned to a smaller cargo van that would provide a smoother ride, less aggravating to his back. Alternatively, he asked to be reassigned to an inside, non-delivery position.

UPS handled the accommodation request appropriately. The employer and driver reviewed the medical information he provided about his limitations and discussed his requested accommodations. The smaller van would not work because its decreased cargo capacity would either require reassignment of part of his delivery route to another person or require the driver to make multiple trips to complete his route — both of which were prevented by terms of the union’s contract with UPS.

Temporary reassignment of the driver to an inside, non-delivery position also was not an option. Although UPS said it would consider the driver for future vacancies, there were no present vacancies for which he was qualified.

While the ADA does require that an employer consider an employee’s requested accommodations in good faith, it gives the employer ultimate discretion in selecting among potential accommodations. In this case, after determining neither of the requested accommodations were reasonable and feasible, UPS allowed the driver to keep his job and take an indefinite leave without pay until he healed and was able to return to work. Unsatisfied, the driver sued. A federal court, however, found that UPS’ choice of offering indefinite, unpaid leave was appropriate and lawful.

Here’s the takeaway: Employers should always consider an employee’s requested accommodation in good faith. Ultimately, though, they have the right to offer a different accommodation that is less impactful to their business. If they go that route, they should be prepared to explain why the accommodation requested was unworkable and why the accommodation provided is reasonable.

This article appeared in the August 24, 2023, issue of The Journal Record. It is reproduced with permission from the publisher. © The Journal Record Publishing Co.