Monday, February 15, 2016

Don’t Forget Applicants Are Entitled to Reasonable Accommodation Too

Employers sometimes forget that their legal obligations as employers starts well before a job offer is made or the optimism that a new hire is a perfect fit starts to wane.  The EEOC gave one Missouri McDonald’s restaurant a potentially costly reminder of this recently when it filed suit against it alleging that it violated the ADA when it failed to provide a sign language interpreter for a hearing impaired applicant. 

The claimant made an application to the McDonald’s restaurant and was called to come in for an interview. A few days before the interview, she contacted the employer and requested a sign language interpreter because she was hearing impaired. The applicant even offered to bring her sister to act as the interpreter. The restaurant failed to get back to her on her request and ultimately hired someone else for the job.

Now, maybe the message from the applicant just got lost in the shuffle of paperwork, or maybe the individual in charge of hiring just didn’t know what to do about it, but in any event, the applicant went to the EEOC and became a claimant.

This case serves as a good reminder that employers have to be prepared to offer reasonable accommodations to applicants through the selection process. Applications should include a notice  directing individuals to an employer designee if they need a reasonable accommodation to participate in the application process. Accommodations that are commonly found to be reasonable are large type applications, a change in interview location to accommodate an applicant’s physical restrictions or allowing or providing a sign language interpreter. 

The same standard for accommodation of workers with disabilities applies to applicants with disabilities. The accommodations need to be reasonable. This means for the employer that it’s okay to rule out accommodations that result in an undue financial or operational hardship, but it doesn’t rule out potential accommodations simply because they might incur additional expense. For the applicant, of course, a reasonable accommodation does not necessarily mean the one that they request if it creates that undue hardship or if other viable options exist.

 During the interview process itself, employers should ensure that they apply their hiring criteria uniformly. Any successful applicant must be able to meet the requirements for the job, such as education, training, employment experience, skills, or licenses. Additionally, an applicant with a disability must be able to perform the essential functions of the job either on his or her own or with the help of reasonable accommodation.