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Are Accommodations Only Required For Work-Related Conditions?

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2020 | ADA |

No. If you have a disability, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires your employer to make a reasonable accommodation, as long as doing so would not create undue hardship for your employer. Undue hardship generally means significant difficulty or expense.

In the recent case of a nurse who could not work more than 12 hours in a row, the employer allegedly claimed that it would not offer accommodations unless the underlying condition were work-related. If such a policy were in place, it would almost certainly violate the ADA.

The plaintiff, a licensed practical nurse, worked at a facility called The Laurels of Coldwater between 2001 and 2016, when she felt forced to quit. In 2012, she presented Coldwater with doctors’ notes stating that she had physically disabling problems with her back and could not work more than a 12-hour shift.

At first, that seems not to have been a problem, as she was working in a unit that was scheduled for 8-hour shifts. In 2015, however, Coldwater transitioned the plaintiff’s unit to 12-hour shifts.

This was problematic because, if the following shift were not staffed, a nurse from the preceding shift was expected to stay. Therefore, the plaintiff would be occasionally required to work longer than 12 hours. She apparently asked to be transferred to a unit scheduled for 8-hour shifts but was denied.

In 2016, Coldwater told the plaintiff she was required to work at 13.5-hour shift. She told her manager about the work restriction, but the manager claimed she had “no control” of the situation. A few days later, Coldwater assigned the plaintiff to a 16-hour shift, even though it wasn’t her turn to stay over. The plaintiff complained that her work restriction wasn’t being honored, but a Coldwater director said there was nothing she could do.

The plaintiff quit her job and sued under the ADA for disability discrimination, failure to make a reasonable accommodation, retaliation and constructive discharge. This is when a reasonable person would feel they had no choice but to resign.

Unfortunately, the trial court ruled against the plaintiff, finding that there was insufficient evidence the nurse had a disability at all.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the trial court. It found that the plaintiff had provided evidence that she was substantially limited in walking, standing, bending and lifting repetitively, which constitutes a disability. Furthermore, the court found that there was evidence to support her failure to accommodate, retaliation and constructive discharge claims.

If you have a disability and your company isn’t honoring your work restrictions, contact an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. You may have rights to protect.