The golden rule of accommodating employees under the ADA

The Golden RuleLast week, I talked about reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the importance of having an open-minded, respectful conversation with a disabled employee who requests an accommodation to perform the essential functions of the job. Ultimately, as I’ve discussed before, the employer (and not the employee) may insist upon a particular accommodation as will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his job.

But is that always the best move?

Consider this recent case, in which a diabetic service technician requested that his employer provide him with an air conditioned vehicle to keep his insulin cold. Providing an air conditioned vehicle seems pretty reasonable to me. Instead, however, the company had a policy, which allowed all employees “take breaks at restaurants or other establishments to cool off on hot days.” Thus, the company claimed that this policy would be a accommodation and; therefore, the employee should not have refused it.

And maybe it is reasonable. Or maybe the policy, as applied to this diabetic service technician is unreasonable because (1) he cannot wait to take breaks as long as other employees are able to; (2) there might not be places to cool off close to a particular assignment location; and (3) accidents or constructions may delay reaching an air-conditioned place. That’s what a jury will have to decide after the court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s failure-to-accommodate claim.

So, just because an employer has an existing policy or, otherwise, can insist upon a particular accommodation, doesn’t mean that it should. Instead, when receiving an accommodation request, imagine that it’s coming from a member of your family. If the accommodation you propose is something that you wouldn’t dream of providing to a family member, then you should probably come up with something else.

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