All Wisconsin employers likely are aware of the requirement to dialogue with a disabled employee about whether a reasonable accommodation would assist the employee to effectively perform the essential functions of the job.
While the requirement is well-known, applying it to a specific fact situation can prove challenging because what is reasonable or effective will necessarily vary from situation to situation.
Bath and Body Works, LLC, a national chain with more than 1,600 retail stores selling a range of home fragrance products, learned the hard way that there are differences in opinion with respect to whether an accommodation is reasonable under the circumstances. Bath and Body Works will pay over $38,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
According to the lawsuit, a Bath and Body Works store in Minnetonka, Minnesota refused to supply a reasonable accommodation to a lead sales associate with type-1 diabetes suffering retinopathy. The employee asked for a larger monitor screen for the cash register, but instead, the manager purchased an inexpensive, hand-held magnifying glass.
The EEOC maintains that the manager’s conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires an employer to provide employees and applicants with a reasonable accommodation for a disability, unless it causes the employer an undue hardship.
The EEOC then filed suit in federal court. Under the ensuing consent decree that settled the lawsuit, Bath and Body Works will pay the employee $38,000 and is required to adopt district-wide policies to prevent future violations of the ADA.
What is the lesson for employers and employees? An employer should be aware of and have access to past cases and how the “reasonable accommodation” rule may be interpreted by the EEOC and the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division (the state counterpart to the EEOC) in a given matter. Both employers and employees should know that an accommodation is not reasonable merely because it is requested by an employee. Rather, the accommodation must be effective and not pose a hardship to the employer. In the Bath and Body Works case, it is apparent that the EEOC viewed the purchase of a magnifying glass for the disabled employee as a failure of the employer to meet its duty of reasonable accommodation under the ADA. For further assistance in assessing what a reasonable accommodation may or may not be, contact your employment law attorney.