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Aug 10, 2016

Anxiety disorders and the ADA: Employer wins case, despite refusing employee’s accommodation request

Disability 

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require an employer to grant an employee’s demand for a particular accommodation, as one employer proved in a recent case from an Oregon federal district court. The employee suffered from anxiety and claimed that she could not work with her co-worker, whose behavior was reportedly erratic and aggressive. To accommodate her anxiety disorder, the employee demanded to be transferred to a different position at a different location. Her employer denied the request because there were no open positions available and, even if there were, the collective bargaining agreement required open positions to be filled by seniority.
 

Reasonable Accommodations for Employees with Mental Health Concerns

 

What the Employer Did to Accommodate

The employer did, however, offer her several options that fit within the needs identified by her doctor, such as:

  • assigning someone else to the shift so she would not have to work alone with the co-worker;
  • allowing the employee to alter her shift several days a week so she could avoid direct contact with the co-worker;
  • altering the corporate communication plan to better accommodate the employee’s needs;
  • facilitating a meeting between the employees to develop a joint action plan for an improved working relationship;
  • and offering access to the company’s employee assistance program to help her manage stress and anxiety.

The employee refused all of these options and instead filed a lawsuit claiming that her employer violated the ADA by not granting the accommodation that she identified. The court sided with the employer without even sending the case to a jury, stating that the employer fulfilled its duty by engaging in the interactive process and identifying several reasonable options for the employee (Anderson v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, D Or, April 2016).
 

Tips for Employers on How to Manage Difficult ADA Situations:

 

This case provides a great example of how to actively manage a difficult ADA situation. An employee may demand a certain disability accommodation, but the ADA does not necessarily require you to grant that request. You need to take a step back, determine what the employee really needs to perform the essential functions of their job, and get creative in generating ideas for helping them do so. Engage with the employee and the employee’s doctor, keep an open mind, and don’t get bullied by the employee into thinking you have to grant their first choice of accommodation ideas. Need help? Check out our many ADA resources, such as: “At a Glance: Americans with Disabilities Act,” “ADA: Reasonable Accommodation Quick Reference,” “ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process,” and “ADA: Letter to Health Care Provider,” and contact your Vigilant employment attorney for advice and counsel.

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