The muse for today’s post is whoever drafts the press releases for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last night, I read this one about a $70,000 settlement that the EEOC reached with a Colorado employer to resolve a lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The EEOC alleged that the employer fired a high school student about two weeks after he suffered a seizure at work and requested accommodation for his disability (epilepsy). The EEOC contended the employer fired the student because of his disability and because he requested an accommodation for his epilepsy (which it refused to discuss with him and denied without explanation).
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, except when such accommodation would cause an undue hardship. The duty to accommodate applies to full-time employees, part-time employees, seasonal employees, minimum wage earners, probationary workers, entry-level workers, you name it.
The only exception is when the individual is not an employee at all. To have standing to pursue an ADA claim, most courts (like this one) examine whether the plaintiff receives direct remuneration or indirect benefits that are substantial or significant and not incidentally related to advancing the purpose of the putative employer. In plain English, many interns won’t be able to pursue ADA claims. Although, mileage may vary depending on the court. Plus, state and local law may require accommodations for interns even where federal law does not.
While there may be times when there is no legal duty to consider a disability accommodation request, those situations will be very rare. Therefore, as a best practice, even absent a legal duty to provide one, consider treating all requests for disability accommodations the same way and providing one unless doing so creates an undue hardship.