How accommodating does an employer have to be to an employee with disabilities?
A case was recently brought before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concerning a disabled employee seeking accommodations beyond those required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both ADA federal regulations for businesses with more than 15 employees and state laws for smaller businesses require that employers make “reasonable” accommodations to disabled employees unless doing so would create “undue hardship.”
The case in question involves a man who worked as a human resources specialist for the Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center in North Carolina from 2003 until his termination in 2011 for poor job performance. The employee suffers from dyslexia and attention deficit disorder (ADD). For most of his time working for the Veterans Administration, he did not request or receive special accommodation, and his work was considered acceptable. His duties included customer service, recruitment, and providing technical advice and assistance.
About one year before his termination, however, he received a poor performance report. At that time, he was given a Performance Improvement Plan which he successfully completed. Nonetheless, in May 2011, for the first time, he made a request for accommodation of his disabilities, including that his duties be limited and his performance standards lowered; he also requested an assistant. He stated that, due to organizational, leadership, and technological changes, his job had become untenable and that he had been “hospitalized twice due to the stress of the position.”
In response, the Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center offered him a possible transfer to a less stressful, albeit lower-salaried, position, but he refused. He said he was interested only in the chaplain or patient advocate position, but neither was available. At this point, the employee filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint and in August 2011 was terminated for documented performance violations, including failure to perform necessary tasks in a timely manner.
The employee sued under the Rehabilitation Act and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina dismissed the lawsuit in favor of the employer. Although the employee appealed his case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision. Both stated that the employer was not compelled to change either the employee’s workload, or its own performance standards, or to hire an extra employee to assist him.
If you are having legal difficulties with employment or labor law issues or would like to discuss other business-related matters of law, please contact one of our highly qualified attorneys at Willcox, Buyck & Williams. Serving clients throughout South Carolina, we can be reached at: 843.536.8050 or 843.461.3020.