Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act an employer cannot fire, demote, refuse to hire or take other negative actions against a worker based on his or her disability. Additionally, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to enable otherwise qualified employees to do their job.
A recent decision by a federal appeals court suggests that employers, in seeking to reasonably accommodate a worker with a disability, must look beyond simply modifying the worker’s current position and consider alternative positions as well.
In that case, a Nissan production technician who suffered from a kidney disease unsuccessfully sought a transfer to a less physically demanding job when his problems worsened. When he returned from leave for a kidney transplant, he was placed in a situation he found even more demanding, was allegedly denied extra breaks or half-time work and still couldn’t secure a transfer to an easier position. Unable to come to agreement with the employer on an appropriate situation, he was ultimately terminated.
A federal judge threw out the man’s disability bias claim, finding that the employer engaged in a proper “interactive process” as required by law before determining the worker couldn’t do his job even with reasonable accommodations.
But the appellate court disagreed, ruling that while Nissan didn’t need to create a new job for the plaintiff it was obligated to consider available transfers that might meet his needs before terminating him, and that the company had failed to document any evidence that it did so.
Now the man will have an opportunity to bring his case before a jury. Getting an employment lawyer to review your own interactive process can help protect you from a similar situation.