Your Sales Representative asks to work in a quiet area to make sales calls because background noise adversely affects his ability to hear. If that’s not possible, he suggests teleworking as an alternative solution. Is this a request for reasonable accommodation? Of course. What do you do next? A smart supervisor would talk with the employee about possible workplace supports needed so that the employee can make effective sales calls. That’s exactly what the ADA says: employers should engage in an interactive dialogue with employees and discuss possible job accommodations that would enable an employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Unfortunately, in a recent real life scenario, the employee was fired rather than accommodated.
EEOC filed a lawsuit against a company that sells Legal Software, for failing to accommodate its employee, who has a hearing impairment and has worked for the company since Nov 08. Rather than discussing possible accommodations requests with him, or suggesting alternative, reasonable accommodations, as required by the ADA, the EEOC said that the company abruptly fired him in September 2009 because of his disability. EEOC is seeking corrective action in the company’s nondiscrimination policies, as well as lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages and other relief for the employee. This could turn out to be a costly mistake for an accommodation that probably would have cost nothing when requested.
Employers should realize that workplace flexibility and making reasonable workplace modifications, such as designating a quiet work space or allowing telecommuting, to keep talented employees working, not only makes good business sense in the 21st century, it is required by federal law.
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.