The unfortunately reality for some employees is that their employers consistently refuse to provide reasonable accommodations when an employee is suffering from an illness or injury. Battling a serious medical condition or recovering from a severe injury is often stressful enough. But when an employer denies the most basic of reasonable accommodations, federal laws are often the only means for seeking assistance. That was the situation for one cancer survivor.
Nancy Stack’s accommodation requests
Nancy Stack was an employee of Wal-Mart who was fighting bone cancer. She suffered significant weakness in one of her legs, so she requested the use of a chair while she worked as a fitting room attendant at her local Wal-Mart. That initial request was granted. However, as Stack’s cancer treatments continued, it became difficult to work her entire shift. She then requested a modified work schedule so she could work for shorter periods. Wal-Mart agreed to that accommodation, at first.
Several months later, though, Stack claims those scheduling accommodations were taken away. Also, according to Stack, she was required to go to the furniture department herself to get a chair to sit in, if she still needed one while working in the fitting room. Because of her physical limitations as a result of the cancer treatments, this was too difficult for her.
Accommodation issues turned into harassment
Stack’s situation became more difficult as time went on. She was transferred from the fitting room to a greeter position, where she was required to stand near the front door for her entire shift. Many of her coworkers began imitating her limp, calling her names and hiding the chair she used to accommodate the weakness in her leg. Her complaints to management regarding the harassment and position changes went unresolved. She ultimately filed a charge with the EEOC, which filed a lawsuit on her behalf alleging that Wal-Mart discriminated against her because of her disability. Wal-Mart settled with Stack for $75,000.
The requirements of the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against “qualified” individuals with disabilities with regard to employment decisions. The prohibition extends to job application procedures, hiring and firing practices and policies, promotions, discipline, compensation, job training and many other “terms, conditions and privileges of employment.
Along with prohibiting discrimination, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees known to have a disability. A reasonable accommodation is simply an adjustment or modification an employer provides to enable individuals with disabilities to have equal employment
opportunities. Of course, accommodations vary depending on what each individual needs, and not all individuals with disabilities will need the same accommodations.
Exceptions to providing reasonable accommodations
There is an exception to this requirement if providing the reasonable accommodation will impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. Undue hardship means that, if the accommodation requires significant difficulty or expense, when considering the size of the employer’s business, its financial resources and other factors, then the employer may not be required to provide the accommodation. In other words, an employer is not required to lower its production standards or lower the quality of its works in order to make an accommodation.
Also, the employer only has to provide an accommodation if the individual with a disability requests one. Once a reasonable accommodation has been requested, the employer and employee will discuss what is needed and try to identify an appropriate reasonable accommodation. If there are several options, the employer is able to choose the option that is less costly or easier to provide.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.