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Legal BriefingADA Accommodation Request Need Not Be Explicit

Employers cannot rely on an employee to specifically request an accommodation under the ADA.
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Employers should be aware of what can bring on ADA accommodations.

Roberta Kowitz was a respiratory therapist for Trinity Health. In 2010, she took a three-month leave following surgery to correct a degenerative spine disease, then returned with restrictions that her shifts should be temporarily cut from 12 to eight hours, and that she should not move loads more than 10 pounds.

After Kowitz returned, the hospital gave employees a month to provide updated copies of their CPR certification: a written exam and a physical CPR demonstration. Kowitz passed the exam but told her supervisor that her doctor said she could not perform the physical demonstration for at least four months. Kowitz was fired the next day.

The U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota dismissed the case, holding that Kowitz could not perform an essential function of her job. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that although “Kowitz did not ask for a reasonable accommodation of her condition in so many words, her notification to her supervisor that she would not be able to obtain the required certification until she had completed physical therapy implied that an accommodation would be required until then.”

Impact: Employers cannot rely on an employee to specifically request an accommodation under the ADA. When an employer is aware of an employee’s disability, the employer must be careful to consider whether an employee’s circumstances require such an accommodation.

Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago. Comment below, or email editors@workforce.com.