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Seven Tips For Dealing with Job Accommodation Requests

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What is a valid accommodation request under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

A trial court decided that a letter titled "Accommodations Requests" was not a valid accommodation request under the ADA, and a federal appeals court agreed.

Attorney alleges harassment

Gregory Kelly was the town attorney for the Town of Abingdon, Virginia. In that role, he managed the town's day-to-day affairs and supervised town employees.

Kelly says political infighting produced a "caustic work environment."

The mayor harassed his staff, he said, and a former mayor threatened to let him go if he did not align himself with her goals and appoint her friends to favorable positions.

He added that a vice mayor berated him in meetings. Kelly has anxiety, depression and high blood pressure, and he said his disabilities became "intolerable" because of the hostile work environment.

The letter

Early in January of 2018, after Kelly had already filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a law firm representing him sent the town a letter titled "Accommodations Requests."

The letter referenced the ADA in its opening line, but its stated overall aim was to "foster a well-running office."

In addition, its list of 12 specific requests strayed far from typical disability-related job accommodation requests, including things like complying with a code of ethics, ending threats of termination, and improving staff diversity.

Kelly said that a few months later, legal counsel for the town told him the town was willing to engage in an interactive process to find a reasonable accommodation for his disabilities. He said that the town not only declined to pursue that process but stepped up its harassment by increasing his workload and escalating threats to replace him.

Resignation, then lawsuit

He resigned near the start of May of 2018, claiming he was constructively discharged from employment.

He later sued, alleging discrimination, retaliation, interference and unlawful denial of accommodation. A trial court ruled against him, and he filed an appeal.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling against him in Kelly v. Town of Abingdon, Virginia.

On appeal, Kelly challenged the lower court's finding that the letter was not an accommodation request under the ADA. But the appeals court agreed with that finding.

While acknowledging that "[i]t is not difficult to request an accommodation," the court advised that "[t]he adequacy of a request depends on how a reasonable employer would view the employee's communication in the surrounding circumstances" of the situation.

In this case, it ruled, there was no "logical bridge" linking the letter to Kelly's disabilities. Despite its label, it bore no connection to his disabilities, it said.

"[T]he letter's substance undercuts its label," the court said.

The lower court's ruling was affirmed.

Accommodation requests and the ADA

Do not be fooled by this ruling into thinking that the bar for employees is high when it comes to requesting a disability-related job accommodation under the ADA. It is not.

At the same time, some requests are not good enough.

The basic, key inquiry: Was the request sufficient to put a reasonable employer on notice that an accommodation is being sought?

Do not dismiss requests because they do not meet technical requirements — because there are none.

Here are seven important points to keep in mind, courtesy of EEOC guidance on the subject.

  • To request accommodation, an employee needs only to let the employer know they need a work adjustment due to a disability.
  • The employee does not need to use any "magic words" or specifically use the term "reasonable accommodation."
  • An accommodation request may be presented on behalf of an employee with a disability by someone else, such as a family member, friend or health professional.
  • A request for accommodation does not have to be in writing.
  • A request may be presented at any time during the application process or during employment.
  • Employers may ask for documentation when the disability and/or the need for accommodation is not obvious.
  • Employers may not ask for medical documentation if the disability and need for accommodation are obvious, or if the applicant/employee has already provided sufficient documentation.

Posted In: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); Reasonable Accommodation

Want to know more? Read the full article by at HR Morning

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