Monday, September 14, 2015

A Reasonable Accommodation Is Not Always the One that the Employee Wants

Recently, the 7th Circuit again confirmed that an employer is not obligated to grant the ADA accommodation that the employee requests. 

In Swanson v. Village of Flossmoor, the plaintiff was a police officer who suffered a stroke, unrelated to his work. After an approximate six week recovery, his doctor released him to return to work with a note that said “part-time work suggested until patient seen by Neurologist on 9–18–09.” The plaintiff claims that he requested a light duty assignment, which in his definition was “desk duty”. Instead, the Village allowed him to work three days a week and utilize his accrued benefit tome for the other days. 

Unfortunately, plaintiff suffered further medical complications and ultimately was unable to return to work, eventually applying for and receiving a non-duty disability. He also filed a claim against the Village alleging that it had violated his rights under the ADA by refusing his request for light duty. He based his claim, in part, on the fact that the Village’s Personnel Policy Manual contained a provision on light duty, deferring the decision to offer an employee “light duty” work to the discretion of the department in which the disabled employee works. It also expressly stated that a request for “light duty” work will only be considered when an employee submits an “acceptable” “physician's report,” specifying the employee's limitations so that the department head can assess whether a suitable “light duty” arrangement can be made. 

The 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s claim, finding that the plaintiff was not entitled to a light duty assignment simply because he had requested one, and that the Village had granted a reasonable accommodation of part time attendance along with allowing use of his benefit time during that period in order to continue receiving a full pay check. The court reasoned that ” even if “light duty” would have been Swanson's preferred accommodation, the ADA does not entitle a disabled employee to the accommodation of his choice. Rather, the law entitles him to a reasonable accommodation in view of his limitations and his employer's needs. Accordingly, permitting an employee to use paid leave can constitute a reasonable accommodation.”

Employers should take note of this case because it again confirms that a reasonable accommodation is not always the one that the employee requests, but every case is fact dependent. In the present case, the plaintiff’s doctor identified no work restrictions, only suggesting part time work. This supported the Village’s decision to ignore plaintiff’s requested desk duty assignment. Had the doctor suggested light duty and identified work restrictions, the Village would have likely been obligated to consider a light duty assignment, although not necessarily obligated to grant one. As the court here reminds us, employers should consider what accommodation is reasonable in light of the employee’s limitations and the employer’s needs.