November 09, 2022

The ADA, Reasonable Accommodation, and How is an Employer to Know?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer must provide an employee with a disability with a reasonable accommodation when the employee requests an accommodation and demonstrates that such an accommodation is reasonable. The question in a recent case focused on “what information a disabled employee must provide to her employer to trigger the employer’s duty to accommodate her disability.”  Although the case was filed under the Federal Rehabilitation Act, the court wrote, “cases involving the ADA are precedent for those involving the Rehabilitation Act.”

Here’s the scoop. An employee asked to work from home for several months due to childbirth-related complications but provided no detail about the nature of these complications or how they would be accommodated by teleworking. Her doctor’s note only indicated that she “may” work from home. Finding this information insufficient to support the employee’s accommodation request, the employer asked her to either submit additional documentation or return to the office. When the employee failed to do either, she was fired. She then sued for failure to provide reasonable accommodation, plus a few other claims.

What did the court say? Hold onto your hats. I am about to share with you a story in which the employer prevails! The court wrote, “an employee must put her employer on notice of the disability for which she seeks an accommodation and provide enough information to allow her employer to understand how the accommodation she requests would assist her.”

Lessons learned. Proceed with caution. This case was decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers AL, FL, and GA. Talk to your company’s employment counsel about your accommodation process, what information you request or require of employees, and how you make these determinations.