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ADA Blog

 

ADA Blog #64

I rather not even get into the obesity issue on this one, but rather the failure to accommodate. See below and let me know what you think.

An employee who worked at the defense contractor, BAE Systems Inc. for 15 years, was suddenly fired and EEOC is suing for discrimination based on disability. Yes, this employee was considered to be morbidly obese, but up until the company’s HR official told him he could no longer perform his job duties as a material handler “because of his weight”, he had received good performance evaluations. Ninety percent of his job entailed typing on a computer at a desk; only 10% involved counting and wrapping parts to prepare them for storage while standing. He also drove a forklift and instructed to wear a seatbelt, which didn’t fit. He requested a seatbelt extender, which he didn’t get and was fired about two weeks after that.

Was termination the proper response? I don’t think so. The ADA requires employers to engage in the interactive process to figure out a reasonable workplace support (reasonable accommodation) so that employees with disabilities can continue doing their job. Surely, a seat belt extender is not unreasonable. And, to make matters worse, the HR official refused his request to transfer into another position. This too, can be considered as a form of reasonable accommodation. The real question here is: was driving a forklift considered an essential function of the job (the reason the job exists)? Employers should take note that termination without 1st exploring what types of workplace supports might be available to keep a qualified employee on the job, is suspect. HR personnel should be trained about how to properly respond to such situations. When it comes to workplace supports, a good starting point is to develop a clear policy and making sure it is followed consistently for all employees.

Shelley

This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.