Employees and their medical providers continue to come up with creative requests for accommodation of medical conditions under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Last month in an unpublished decision, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a failure to accommodate claim filed by an employee who unsuccessfully sought extended meal breaks to visit an exercise facility.
In McDonald v. UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, the plaintiff’s doctor recommended that she exercise 30 to 60 minutes per day to help with a genetic condition. The employer maintained an on-site exercise facility and gave employees the flexibility to take either a 60-minute lunch break or a 30-minute lunch with two 15-minute breaks during the working day. The plaintiff had opted for the 30-minute lunch with breaks, but she asked to switch to the longer breaks without telling her supervisor the medical reason for the request. The supervisor initially denied the request based on production needs, suggesting to the employee that she use the exercise facility before work. She obtained a doctor’s note and appealed this decision to a higher manager. While the request was under consideration, the plaintiff began taking the longer breaks and swore at her supervisor when he told her to stop this practice. She was suspended, and she resigned her employment.
The plaintiff sued, claiming constructive discharge and failure to accommodate under the ADA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the suit. The court concluded that the accommodation request for a longer lunch was not necessary because the doctor’s instructions did not state that the exercise period needed to be uninterrupted. Moreover, the Sixth Circuit concluded that the plaintiff quit before the employer had a chance to fully consider and respond to her accommodation request.
The court did not conclude that a request to change or extend breaks can never be reasonable under the ADA. However, in addition to the usual undue hardship defense, employers can also justify their decision to deny these accommodation requests on the basis that they are not required to meet the doctor’s medical recommendations. While employers should give full and fair consideration to these requests, they can agree to provide alternative accommodations that better suit work needs.