Here are a few pages to add to your ADA accommodation playbook from a recent federal appellate court decision


The Americans with Disabilities Act makes employers responsible for reasonably accommodating individuals with disabilities unless doing so will create undue hardship. However, accommodating employees with disabilities is not a perfect science.

Fortunately, a recent Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision provides employers with some helpful tips.

The case involves an employee who worked with heavy machinery until injuring himself badly at work. After several surgeries, his doctor determined that he had reached his maximum medical improvement but could return to work subject to certain physical restrictions.

The employer determined that, because of these restrictions and the nature of his job, the plaintiff could not perform its essential functions with or without accommodation. An individual who cannot perform the job’s essential functions with or without accommodation is not a “qualified individual”; therefore, the ADA does not protect him.

Here’s how the employer determined how and whether it could accommodate the employee.

First, it assembled a “Work Analysis Team” comprised of 14 people, including managers, HR, an ADA coordinator, a DEI office member, safety/comp representatives, a labor representative, and a vocational counselor. That Team met nine times over the following month and worked to identify the essential functions and physical requirements of the employee’s position and how it could accommodate him.

I’ll pause to let you pick your jaws up off the floor.

Next, the Team compiled a spreadsheet listing essential functions of the employee’s position and further itemized the tasks required to perform each essential function. For each task with one of the employee’s permanent restrictions, the Team assessed the accommodation options. Ultimately, the Team determined that the employee could not perform the job’s essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

Since the ADA requires an interactive, good-faith dialogue between employer and employee, the Team met with the employee, presented its findings, and elicited his feedback. The employee did not contest any findings but mentioned that he thought stretch breaks would be a sufficient accommodation.

So, the Team reconvened later to consider and identify other accommodations, including whether reassignment to another position would work. After careful consideration over the following week, the Team determined there were no viable accommodations, including reassignment.

Based on the foregoing, both the lower court and the Eighth Circuit concluded that the employer discharged its duty to accommodate in good faith and reasonably concluded that it could not accommodate the employee.

(And I’ve found an excellent case study to present at a local SHRM chapter conference next month!)

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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