There’s no bright-line rule or magic words needed for employees to request workplace accommodations.


See what you think of this.

An employee who recently returned from breast cancer surgery complains to her manager that her job “was hard for her physically,” she “was struggling” and “needed some time to get back to normal.” The employee added that she had worked 53 hours the week before and wanted the chance “to get used to all the work again.”

Do these comments, without the words “disability” or “accommodation” — let alone a specific accommodation, amount to a request for a specific accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

According to a recent Sixth Circuit decision, they do.

From yesterday’s post, we know that employers must help qualified individuals with disabilities do their jobs unless they can show that the requested accommodation would create undue hardship.

When a plaintiff claims that a defendant failed to accommodate their disability, they must show (1) an accommodation request that is (2) objectively reasonable.

What’s an accommodation request?

There’s no magic language required or bright-line rule. But context matters.

The Sixth Circuit concluded that a reasonable jury could conclude that the employee requested an accommodation.

During the June 18 meeting with [her manager], [the plaintiff] told her she ‘needed some time to get back to normal…,was struggling,’ and added that she had worked 53 hours the week before and wanted the chance ‘to get used to all the work again. One could reasonably understand these comments as a request for a reduced work schedule…She told [her manager] that the job ‘was hard for [her] physically.’ And one could reasonably infer from context that [the plaintiff’s] physical struggles stemmed from her disability. (cleaned up)

Indeed, between the plaintiff’s manager knowing that she had just returned from a four-month LOA for breast cancer surgery and the plaintiff’s statements a week later, one could reasonably infer that she was requesting an accommodation.

Was the request reasonable?

It was. Consider the plaintiff’s statement about wanting to get used to working overtime. The Sixth Circuit likened this to a request for a reduced or modified work schedule, which the court recognized as “a classic example of a reasonable accommodation.” Indeed, the ADA explicitly instructs that “reasonable accommodation” may include “part-time or modified work schedules” unless the employer can establish undue hardship.

There was no undue hardship in this case, and the court concluded that a reduced work schedule would have helped the plaintiff overcome a key obstacle: fatigue. Therefore, the Sixth Circuit held that a jury should decide the plaintiff’s failure to accommodate claims.

It’s also a reminder that ADA compliance often begins with training managers to ascertain and facilitate accommodation requests by involving HR or Legal.

And if you’re looking for help, I know a guy who writes The Employer Handbook.

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