To What Ends Must Employers Go To Accommodate Disabled Employers?
Most employers are aware of their obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to accommodate a disabled employee in a way that would assist the employee in performing the essential functions of his or her job. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion, however, recognizing that an employer’s obligation to accommodate a disabled employee also extends beyond that which is necessary to assist the employee in performing the job.
In Feist v. State of Louisiana, the plaintiff alleged that her employer violated the ADA because it failed to reasonably accommodate her disability – osteoarthritis of the knee – by refusing to grant her a free, on-site parking space. The District Court had rejected the plaintiff’s claim, holding that she had failed to explain how the denial of the on-site parking space limited her ability to perform the essential functions of her job. The Fifth Circuit, however, reversed the District Court’s opinion and held that the ADA does not require only those accommodations that assist the employee with his or her job performance.
In addition to assisting disabled employees with their job performance, the ADA obligates employers generally to provide accommodations that would enable disabled employees to “enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities”; in Feist’s case, a free, on-site parking space. Although the Fifth Circuit reserved opinion about whether the free, on-site parking space was “reasonable,” the case serves as a reminder that employers cannot refuse an accommodation simply because it would not directly assist the employee in the performance of the job. The ends to which employers must go to provide an accommodation remain a fact-specific analysis that must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
In light of Feist, employers faced with a unique or unusual accommodation request that is unrelated to job performance should consult with legal counsel before rejecting the request outright. If you have questions or concerns about employers’ obligations under the ADA, please respond to this email or contact your Elarbee Thompson attorney.