Yesterday, we talked about how workplace accommodations that enable an employee to remain at work (and get paid) are generally better than ones that require time off, like an unpaid leave of absence.
But sometimes, there’s only one option.
Consider this recent Fourth Circuit decision. The plaintiff drove a big truck for the defendant. At some point during his employment, he got hurt and requested a smaller truck with a softer suspension or another position altogether.
The Americans with Disabilities prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee with a disability if the employee can perform the essential functions of his job with “reasonable accommodation.” Once an employer is on notice that an individual with a disability requires an accommodation, it must engage in an interactive dialogue with the individual to discern what it can do to help.
However, the duty to accommodate does not include removing essential job functions or creating an entirely new position, which is precisely what would have needed to happen here to accommodate the plaintiff’s requests. The Fourth Circuit noted that the defendant had determined that the route the plaintiff had been driving required a larger truck, and there were no openings for inside work.
Fortunately, the defendant did not simply reject the plaintiff’s accommodation requests and end the conversation. It offered another option: an unpaid leave of absence until his injuries healed and he could return to work. Again, an unpaid leave of absence may not be ideal, but when it’s the only option that enables an individual with a disability to remain employed, it’s reasonable.
On these facts, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the plaintiff’s ADA failure-to-accommodate claims failed because the plaintiff had not shown that the accommodations the plaintiff requested were reasonable and that the unpaid leave of absence constituted a reasonable accommodation in the circumstances.