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Must an Employer Accommodate a Fear of Needles?


Most Americans recognize the duty of employers to accommodate employees with disabilities, depending on the circumstances. In a recent case against Wal-Mart, a pharmacist requested a reasonable accommodation, but the employer ultimately denied the request. The situation, in that case, was somewhat unique and the result might be surprising as well. This article will briefly discuss this Second Circuit decision.

Pharmacist Requests Accommodation for Fear of Needles

A pharmacist working in one of Wal-Mart’s pharmacies requested accommodation after the retail giant changed its policies and began requiring all pharmacists to administer flu shots and other immunizations to customers. According to the lawsuit, the pharmacist had a fear of needles, known as trypanophobia. As such, he requested an exemption from the new requirement that he administer immunizations which, of course, required the use of needles.

Requirement to Provide Reasonable Accommodations

In addition to prohibiting discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees known to have a disability. A reasonable accommodation is basically 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. Also, the accommodation must allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job and must be provided unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer. However, exemptions from performing the essential functions of a position are typically not considered a reasonable accommodation.

Court Ruled that Accommodation Was Required

Typically, requesting to be exempt from a job requirement would not be considered a reasonable accommodation; however, this Second Circuit case presented a unique scenario. The issue was whether administering immunizations was actually an essential function of the pharmacist’s job. When considering whether a job function is "essential," Courts will consider factors including the written job descriptions, the amount of time spent on the job performing the function at issue, and the work experience of current employees in similar positions. In this case, the employee was able to prove that immunizations were not an essential function. In particular, he was able to show that the employer never formally changed the job description.

Inconsistency Can Create Issues for an Employer

As this case demonstrates, it is important for job descriptions to accurately reflect the essential functions of a position. If an employer fails to modify its job descriptions with updated duties, they may find it difficult to enforce those new requirements. It is also important that employers act consistently when applying job requirements.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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