The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations that allow a qualified disabled person to perform the essential functions of their job. The question of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation has been the subject of countless federal court decisions over the past 30 years. This week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia) concluded that an employee’s request to restructure his job functions went beyond his employer’s accommodation obligations.
In Hannah v. UPS, the plaintiff was a driver who developed hip bursitis that prevented him from driving his regular delivery truck. As an accommodation, he requested use of a smaller vehicle that he could operate within his medical restrictions. UPS denied the request, instead offering an unpaid medical leave of absence to allow the plaintiff to recover and resume his prior duties. He sued, claiming failure by his employer to provide a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit on summary judgment. The appellate panel unanimously held that the smaller truck would not allow the plaintiff to complete his scheduled deliveries due to the need for multiple trips. This in turn would require working hours that would violate the collective bargaining agreement in place with the drivers’ union. The court explained that the ADA does not require employers to redefine their jobs to allow the disabled employee to return to work. In this case, the plaintiff’s medical condition was temporary, and the alternative leave accommodation was both reasonable and effective.
When faced with an ADA accommodation request, many employers skip straight to an analysis of whether the request is an undue hardship due to cost or other factors. They often ignore the point that the requested accommodation must also be effective, meaning that it must allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. In this case, even if the rejected accommodation would not have imposed unreasonable costs on the company, it simply did not result in the employee being able to perform the job as conceived by the employer.