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Employment Blog

Caution - Duty To Accommodate May Be Expanded

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on November 13, 2013
Filed under Employment

A recent decision from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has opened the door to consideration of a duty to accommodate under the Americans With Disabilities Act that goes beyond the need to accommodate an employee with assistance to perform the essential functions of the employee's job. In this decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that summary judgment should not be granted to the employer but rather the trial court should determine whether the providing of free on-site parking to an employee that suffered from a knee problem was a reasonable accommodation.

The point of this decision was that the ADA is not limited to providing accommodations to allow an employee to perform the regular duties of their position but rather could be read to require an employer to provide accommodations even if the accommodation does not directly help the employee perform their regular work duties.

This is an expansion of how to consider what is a reasonable accommodation for an employee suffering from a disabling condition. While there are not more cases that follow this line of thinking, there is great concern that more circuits will see an opportunity to expand the duty to accommodate into various aspects of the work environment and not limit that duty to just addressing accommodations that will assist an employee to do their job successfully. This could open the door to significant expansion of requests for accommodations that would make life easier for an employee. It's not far-fetched to imagine requests to work from home on a regular basis because that will help an employee be successful and enjoy life.

Employers must be very cautious when considering an accommodation requested by an employee. Employers should not move quickly to grant an accommodation even if it is a simple request without considering whether this will impact other requests in the future. Take the time to think this through before giving an accommodation to an employee even though the case law appears to be expanding the duty to accommodate.