A supervisor instructs a forklift driver to count inventory at its warehouse. Because of the heat in the warehouse at the height at which inventory is located, the employee uses his forklift to lower the inventory to the floor in order to count it. Is that a problem?
Well, when the supervisor questioned the employee about this method, he disclosed his disability (asthma). Concerned that his asthma would be triggered, he asked that he not be required to stand atop an order picker (a high-reach lift machine) that other employees were using to count the inventory, but instead be allowed to use his forklift to lower inventory to the warehouse floor where he would count it. This is a request for a workplace support to do an essential function of his job. He was denied and sent home for the day. When he returned to work, he was fired for failing to complete the inventory counting assignment.
The company is now faced with an EEOC lawsuit and is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the employee, as well as corrective action.
The ADA requires employers to provide employees with disabilities with reasonable accommodations that allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs, unless doing so would be an undue hardship. Also, the ADAAA reminds us that the definition of disability is broad. Asthma “may” be a disability for some people. If the disability is not obvious, employers can request documentation. However, documentation doesn’t necessarily have to come from a doctor; in many instances the employee can provide sufficient information from other sources (e.g., health care provider, school records, etc.) as proof of a “disability” and/or need for a reasonable accommodation.
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.