Of all the hills on which an employer should plant its flag to defend, this is not the one.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities, except when such accommodation would cause an undue hardship. The undue hardship burden is high, something creating significant difficulty or expense.
Last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it had sued a hotel, alleging it failed to provide a front desk clerk with a disability with the requested accommodation: a chair or stool to allow the employee to sit periodically. Why? Because stools and chairs at the front desk were contrary to company policy, claimed the EEOC.
Employers do not have to provide employees with disabilities their first choice of accommodation. However, they should engage in an interactive dialogue to determine what else they can do to help.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, the employer did so engage and proposed two alternatives. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the EEOC claims the accommodations the employer offered weren’t comparable: (1) the employee could apply for another position for which the employee believed he was not qualified, or (2) the employee could have worked another desk job on the graveyard shift.
According to the EEOC, the employer’s refusal to accommodate the employee rendered the employee’s working conditions so intolerable that the employee was forced to resign.
I shake my damn head at stuff like this.
As a young lawyer, I remember an employment lawyer from a Fortune 50 company telling audience members at an HR conference that when an employee requests a modest job accommodation, the employer should provide it, no questions asked.
His specific example was a chair.
Consider the alternative may be defending an expensive lawsuit against the EEOC.