Don’t Delay in Providing Reasonable Accommodations
A recent federal appellate case offers a lesson to employers regarding the need to handle reasonable accommodation requests from employees with disabilities with reasonable promptness and appropriate follow up.
In McCray v. Wilkie, the employee’s job responsibilities included driving a van. The employee requested a new van because of knee pain, which the organization’s ergonomics expert determined was caused by lack of leg room that apparently exacerbated his disability (for which he had not previously requested any accommodation). Despite the employee’s repeated requests, a new van was not provided for 11 months.
As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit noted, an unreasonable delay can constitute a denial of reasonable accommodation under the Rehabilitation Act (which applies to the government and incorporates the same legal standards as the Americans with Disabilities Act). In determining whether a delay is unreasonable, a court looks at the totality of the circumstances, including, but not limited to, factors such as “the employer’s good faith in attempting to accommodate the disability, the length of the delay, the reasons for the delay, the nature, complexity, and burden of the accommodation requested, and whether the employer offered alternative accommodations.”
In the present case, the Seventh Circuit found that to replace the van was not particularly complex or burdensome. Of additional significance, it noted that, during the 11-month lag period, “there was no dialogue with [the employee] about what else could be done and on what timeline, an omission that could be understood to violate the [the employer’s] duty to engage in an interactive process with its employee in an effort to arrive at an appropriate accommodation, and also as evidence of his employer’s lack of good faith.”
Takeaways: Thus, employers should keep in mind that straightforward reasonable accommodation requests should be provided in a reasonably prompt fashion, and that if there will be a delay in providing an accommodation, it is important to explore with the employee whether alternative accommodations exist, either in lieu of or pending the delayed accommodation.