We are seeing more Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims lately, which shine a light on the gray area of “what is a reasonable accommodation?” If an employee cannot perform their job duties because of a non-work related medical issue, the employer should try to find a position within the employee’s skill set and comfort level. The key is identifying reasonable accommodations for the employee and avoiding undue hardship on the employer. Take ADA claims seriously and give a lot of thought to the impact of potential accommodations including harassing comments and medical difficulties.
Recently, Wal-Mart won an ADA-related lawsuit against an employee who claimed a change in her position would cause her embarrassment. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wal-Mart did not fail to accommodate the stockroom worker with multiple sclerosis (MS) by reassigning her to a night cashier position. (See Kelleher v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 8th Cir., No. 15-2105 (March 31, 2016)).
When Kelleher was diagnosed with MS, she notified her supervisors that she would no longer be able to climb ladders, an essential function of her stocker position. Wal-Mart accommodated her request for a job change and made multiple accommodations for her over an employment period of more than 13 years. Store management determined that the overnight cashier position would work best for Kelleher because “because it did not require ladder use and was less physically strenuous than stocking, and included a 20 cents/hour raise.” The new position included many of the same duties as Kelleher’s stocker position and only required operating a cash register when the store was unusually busy.
Kelleher did not want to take the cashier position, “fearing that customers would make comments about her, and that she would have difficulties performing the position because of her speech and eyesight,” both medical conditions associated with MS. The Court found that her transfer to a new position was not “adverse employment action” because she didn’t present any medical evidence that the duties would be difficult for her to carry out. She also didn’t present any evidence that, as a cashier, she would actually be subject to any harassment or comments by customers.
It’s important to note that Wal-Mart engaged in an interactive process with the employee to make accommodations over the period of her long-term employment. If you have questions about the ADA and what constitutes “reasonable accommodations,” call us at 678-208-2802.