Reasonable Accommodations Must Be Required, Not Just Desired
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer is obliged to provide only those reasonable accommodations that are necessary to enable an employee to perform their essential job functions (or enjoy the privileges and benefits of employment), and not those that would arguably maximize an employee’s productivity.
In Edwards v. WellStar Medical Group, LLC, after an employee’s accommodation request of being transferred to a new supervisor (which courts have found to be not reasonable as a matter of law) was rejected, she submitted a list of 18 other requested accommodations (including leave, equipment, breaks, part-time work, removal of distractions, removal of non-essential job functions, assistance, additional training, weekly meetings, etc.) that she copied from “the ADA website.” She wanted her employer to pick those that would not be a hardship. The employer asked for clarification, and the employee stated that she was requesting accommodations “to maximize her productivity.” The employer ultimately denied the requests as “unduly burdensome, impractical, [and] disruptive,” and terminated her employment. She sued for failure to accommodate.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit threw out her claims, finding that she did not show that an accommodation was necessary in order to enable her to do her job. The employee admitted she could perform her essential job functions without accommodation, but only sought to increase her productivity. But, as the Eleventh Circuit asserted, “[i]f an employee does not require an accommodation to perform her essential job functions, then the employer is under no obligation to make an accommodation, even if the employee requests an accommodation that is reasonable and could be easily provided.”
This case reminds employers that a necessary predicate to any reasonable accommodation request is that the employee does, in fact, require an accommodation to perform their essential job functions or to enjoy the privileges and benefits of employment. The language of any doctor’s note may be critical (e.g. “it may be helpful” v. “it is necessary”).