Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to consider reassignment as a form of reasonable accommodation to an employee who is unable to perform the essential functions of his or her previous position. Once the reassignment accommodation has been made, is the employer required to return the employee to his previous position once his medical condition allows?
In an unpublished decision issued earlier this year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North Carolina and South Carolina), determined that an employer was not required to move the employee to back to his old job. In Schneider v. Giant of Md., LLC, the plaintiff was a pharmacist supervisor whose job required him to travel by car between stores in his district. Schneider had diabetes and his driver's license was suspended for six months after he blacked out and became involved in an accident. In order to accommodate him, Giant moved the plaintiff to a pharmacy manager position at a single store, reducing his salary to match the diminished responsibilities for this position.
Six months later DMV reinstated Schneider's driving privileges. In the meantime, he began developing foot problems that made the standing requirements for the manager position difficult. He approached Giant and requested that he be returned to his former supervisor position. Giant denied this request, and the plaintiff sued, alleging failure to accommodate under the ADA.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the complaint on summary judgment. The court noted that it would not have been a reasonable accommodation for Giant to hold the supervisor position vacant in the hope that the plaintiff would be able to return in six months, especially given that fact that there was no certainty that his driver's license would be restored at the end of the initial suspension. Giant had filled this job, and was not required under the ADA to bump the current occupant to accommodate Schneider.
In situations where the reassignment accommodation is clearly limited in time, employers may have to consider holding the old job open for a reasonable period of time. However, when the need for reassignment appears to be permanent or open ended at the time of the request, employers are entitled to permanently fill the vacated job.