The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation in order to allow employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision, concluding that the accommodation does not have to be directly related to performance of those essential functions in order to be mandated under the ADA.
Feist v. Louisiana involved a state employee who sued after being denied a designated parking space following a knee injury. She also claimed that she was terminated in retaliation for complaining about the denial of her request. The district court concluded that under the ADA, employers only have to consider accommodation requests that involve performance of essential job functions. The parking space request did not limit the plaintiff's ability to perform such functions.
In reversing this decision, the Fifth Circuit said that the ADA contains no limitation of its accommodation requirement to essential job functions. The obligation extends to employers making their facilities accessible and useable to disabled persons. This language is echoed in EEOC regulations requiring employers to provide equal benefits and privileges to disabled employees.
Employers should take seriously and analyze employee accommodation requests, even when those requests only tangentially relate to performance of the job itself. ADA requirements are broader, encompassing the entire work environment.