How Reasonable Does an Employer Have to be in Accommodating a Disability?
Agroupur Inc. will soon learn the answer to how reasonable an employer must be in accommodating a disability. The dairy processor had an employee who learned that she had a severe eczema skin condition arising from an allergy to rubber and plastics which she discovered when she had to wear a certain type of gloves in connection with her work. She asked for some accommodation of this problem which included wearing a different type of glove. The employer refused. When her eczema flared up, she had to leave work. This caused her to accumulate attendance points which were a penalty on her record. Once a certain number of points are reached the employee is let go, which is what happened to her.
She filed her complaint with the EEOC alleging that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) had been violated. The EEOC agreed and found that the employer should have explored ways to accommodate her. The EEOC brought the case and is seeking monetary relief and an injunction against the company for this type of conduct. The case is now pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan (EEOC v. Agropur, Inc., Case No. 1:21-cv-00765).
Disability does not mean someone is an invalid. It means that there has been some change in the body’s function, so it does not work as it should. Most people have some disability as no one is perfect. The question is whether the loss of function impacts one’s ability to do his job. If it does, the question becomes whether some change can be made to accommodate that loss of function. It may be a change in how the job is performed, what clothing is worn, when the work is done, etc.
This area of the law impacts long term disability claims as well. Frequently, an insurance company will contend that an accommodation is possible and thus that the employee is not disabled. The employer will also agree that an accommodation is possible. The employee ends up between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The results of cases like this shed further light on this issue and provide guidance under the ADA and ERISA. Another example of why it is so important to engage an experienced ERISA disability attorney as soon as possible.