How to handle competing ADA reasonable accommodation requests?
Competing reasonable accommodation requests put one employer between a rock and a hard place in a recent, and rather bizarre, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) case. One employee was so allergic to paprika she had taken several trips to the emergency room in the past few years, along with nearly a dozen emergency anti-allergy shots, after food containing paprika was brought into the workplace. Her solution was to obtain a specially trained dog that could sniff out paprika. When she brought the dog to work, a second employee suffered a severe asthma attack caused by her dog allergies. When told she could no longer bring the paprika-sniffing dog into work, she filed a “failure to accommodate” charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Source: indy.com, May 12, 2010).
Q: So what is an employer to do in this situation?
A: Good question! Employers have an obligation under the ADA to provide a reasonable accommodation to each disabled employee, but there’s no guidance on how to handle incompatible requests. The best suggestion is to get creative. Make sure there’s truly no other option; sit down with each employee, discuss all possible options, and get input from the employees’ doctors. If there still isn’t a solution, you may need to choose which accommodation request to grant. Unfortunately, as this employer found out, being placed in a no-win situation could mean you’re left defending whatever decision you make. See our Legal Guide, “ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process” (1078) for more help.