Granting Unanticipated Absences from Work Does Not Constitute a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA

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January 17, 2008

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Under the ADA, a qualified individual with a disability is one who, either with or without a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job desired or held.
 
In Rask v. Fresenius Medical Care of North America, Decision No. 06-3923 (8th Cir. Ct. App., 12/6/07), a patient care technician, Rask, worked at two kidney dialysis facilities owned by Fresenius Medical Care of North America. Rask suffered from depression. Rask was working two days a week (a prior accommodation), but asked to be allowed to take additional unanticipated days off from work on short notice. Rask advised her supervisors that she was having problems with her medication and that she “might miss a day here and there because of it.” Rask was disciplined for attendance problems and ultimately fired for that reason.
 
Rask filed a lawsuit under the ADA against Fresenius claiming, in part, a violation of the ADA; that is, that she had a disability within the meaning of the ADA (depression) and that Fresenius should have excused her absences as a result of that disability as a reasonable accommodation. To demonstrate that she was qualified for protection under the ADA, Rask had to show that she was able to perform the essential functions of her job. Because regular and reliable attendance typically is considered to be a necessary element of most jobs, Rask could not show that she was qualified for protection under the ADA unless she could show that a reasonable accommodation would allow her to perform the essential functions of her position.
 
The Court of Appeals found that Rask’s request to be permitted to have additional unanticipated days off on short notice was not sufficient notice of a request for a reasonable accommodation. The Court of Appeals noted that the purpose of a reasonable accommodation request is to allow the employer to understand the limitation of the individual and to permit the employer to determine how best to assist the individual in engaging in the essential functions of the job. The Court of Appeals found that Rask’s request did neither. Particularly, Rask never advised Fresenius of her specific limitations.
 
The Court also ruled that while the law requires an employer to make an adjustment or modification that will assist the employee in performing the duties of a particular job, it does not require such action if the purpose of the requested adjustment or modification is to assist the individual in daily activities on and off the job. In the case before it, the Court held that the ability to take sudden, unscheduled absences, in light of Rask’s particular job, would simply have been for Rask’s personal benefit, as it would not have assisted Rask in performing the duties of her particular job. Therefore, the suggested accommodation was not reasonable.
If you have questions regarding the above, please contact any of the attorneys in the Employment, Benefits & Labor Relations Practice Group of Ruder Ware.

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