Is a request to transfer away from a supervisor antagonist a reasonable accommodation?


Imagine a situation that, well, won’t be too hard to imagine.

One of your employees gets a new supervisor, and things don’t seem to be working out.

The employee complains that the new supervisor scheduled her to work the closing shift even though it conflicted with her ability to provide care for her daughter, changed her schedule without notice, ensured that her area was understaffed, marked her absent when she had worked or taken appropriate leave, retroactively altered her timesheets, excluded her from meetings, refused to sign her leave slips, and required her to work extra hours but did not pay her overtime.

Plus, there’s the mental toll that the supervisor’s alleged behavior is taking on the employee.

The “hostile work environment” caused the employee anxiety and headaches. She has trouble sleeping and eating. Eventually, her doctor diagnoses her with anxiety and major depressive disorder.

The employee takes leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to treat her anxiety. The employee’s doctor then recommends that the company accommodate her by transferring her to a new supervisor.

Is a request to transfer away from a supervisor antagonist a reasonable accommodation?

According to this recent opinion from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the answer is no:

An accommodation is reasonable if it enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. A “reasonable accommodation” may include job restructuring; modified work schedules; reassignment to a vacant position; acquisition or modification of equipment; appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials, or policies; and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities. But a transfer of an employee from an incompatible supervisor is not a reasonable accommodation. (cleaned up).

While I haven’t done a complete 50-state survey on this issue, I suspect that most courts (at least) would agree. Here in the Third Circuit, a request for an accommodation to be reassigned to a different position with a new supervisor is unreasonable as a matter of law. Neither the ADA nor the FMLA requires it.

Even if a transfer were reasonable, the ADA does not require the employer to provide the employee’s first choice of accommodation if another exists.

Still, nothing prevents an employer from agreeing to a transfer. Indeed, it may not only avoid a lawsuit but also eliminate headaches at work — the employee’s and yours.

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