I’m pretty sure that I’ve blogged about this before. But, maybe not. So, either what I’m about to tell you bears repeating, or I’m only going to say this once, so pay attention.
If an employee with a disability requests a chair, stool, or another place to park their tush for a while, you should strongly consider providing it — no questions asked.
That was the advice I distinctly remember hearing many years ago from the general counsel of a Fortune 50 company at an employment law conference. And it stuck with me. Why? Because under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability where doing so will enable that person to perform the essential functions of the job.
So, unless your employee is demanding the ‘Ergonomic 2000’ that costs $2,000 when the ‘Ergo 20’ that costs $20 will do the trick, it’s rare that providing a seat to an employee with a disability is going to create an undue hardship for your business.
Unfortunately, some employers have managed to bollocks this over the years.
Three years ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers must provide chairs to employees who can perform their jobs while seated. One major supermarket chain that also does business in California didn’t get the memo. So, a few weeks ago, it wrote a $12,000,000 settlement check and agreed to provide 30,000 seats to accommodate cashiers with disabilities.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“Eric, we don’t do business in California. How much could these settlements possibly impact my company?”
A Texas-based company can answer that question for you. It’s now $2.65 million lighter in the wallet after entering into a Consent Decree with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The settlement resolved the EEOC’s claims that the company allowed employees who prepared and served food samples to shoppers to sit on stools for no more than ten minutes every two hours, regardless of their medical conditions or restrictions. The EEOC alleged that sitting for more extended periods would have been a reasonable accommodation that enabled employees to perform the job. Some employees were permitted to sit as needed when they performed the same job while working directly for the retailers. Still, when the employer took over the events, it refused to allow the same accommodation, according to the EEOC.
You can read more in the EEOC’s press release here. In the press release, you’ll find this quote from the Director of the EEOC’s St. Louis Field Office, “Providing reasonable accommodation to qualified workers who are able to perform the essential functions of their jobs is not only required by law, it is smart business.”
I don’t know the cost of providing seats to disabled employees. I guess that it’s a fraction of the amount of the settlement checks that these employers wrote.
Think about doing ‘smart business’ the next time an employee requests a small reasonable accommodation.