Employers spend a lot time with employees figuring out reasonable accommodations they can make for disabled employees. There are many accommodations that employers must consider if necessary to enable a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of the job. One type of accommodation that typically beguiles employers is job restructuring, including reassignments to other positions.
Wardia v. Justice & Public Safety Cabinet Dept. of Juvenile Justice (6th Cir. 1/3/13) provides an example of how these principles can play out.
John Wardia was a Youth Worker at the Campbell County Regional Juvenile Detention Center. Following neck surgery, he became unable to perform physical restraints on juveniles, an essential function of his job. Wardia initially requested, and the employer granted, a temporary accommodation working a light-duty position in the control room. After Wardia's doctor made clear the disability was permanent, he asked for one of two accommodations—being relieved by coworkers whenever the need to restrain arises, or a permanent reassignment to the control room. The employer denied both requests and terminated Wardia's employment.
The court upheld the dismissal of Wardia's disability discrimination lawsuit.
- Rejecting Wardia's request that a co-worker relieve him when the need arose to restrain someone, the court concluded, "The ADA does not require employers to accommodate individuals by shifting an essential job function onto others."
- Rejecting Wardia's request for a permanent assignment to the control room, the court concluded, "Employers cannot be required to convert either rotating or temporary positions into permanent positions … [and] temporary light-duty positions for recuperating employees need not be converted into permanent positions."
Just because a disabled employee asks for an accommodation does not mean that you have to grant the request. Engage in the employee in the interactive process, and make a reasoned decision that the accommodation will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job while protecting your business from undue hardship.