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Extended Consideration of Accommodation Request OK in Unusual Circumstances

    Client Alerts
  • February 01, 2018

Employers understand their obligation to engage in an interactive process to address accommodation requests made by disabled employees. How long does the employer have to reach a conclusion with regard to the accommodation request? According to a recent unpublished decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, an extended consideration period may be appropriate in the event of an unusual accommodation proposal.

In Arndt v. Ford Motor Co., the plaintiff was an Army veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. After taking medical leaves of absence for his condition, the plaintiff and his physician requested that his service dog be permitted to accompany him to work in order to help avoid stress triggers. Ford spent several months considering the request, meeting multiple times with the plaintiff and asking questions about his disability and how it impacts his work. The company also expressed some initial concerns about the presence of a dog in a manufacturing area. The plaintiff became frustrated over this delay, resigned, and filed suit against Ford, alleging constructive discharge and failure to accommodate under the ADA.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court said there was no evidence that Ford had refused to engage in the interactive accommodation process. The plaintiff may not have liked the questions raised by Ford, or its inability to quickly respond to the accommodation request, but this did not mean the company violated his rights under the ADA. In situations like this where the accommodation request is unusual, the employer has the right to take more time to consider the proposal.

Neither this decision nor the ADA specify how much time an employer can take in responding to a disabled employee’s accommodation request. In most cases, the employer should promptly review the request and reach a decision, especially in situations where the employee is not able to work pending the accommodation decision. However, employers should not feel rushed or compelled to make a snap decision when the accommodation request requires more than a perfunctory analysis of the effect of the measures on the workplace.