What California Employees Should Know about Workplace Accommodation in 2018: Reasonable Accommodation vs. Undue Hardship
By: Steve Danz, Esq.
How do the courts interpret “undue hardship” to employers in exemption from the ADA?
In an interesting recent case, an employee who was a computer graphics designer for an engineering company claimed that interacting with one of her co-workers caused her severe anxiety and exacerbated her PTSD. The two employees rarely worked together but their cubicles were adjacent. The employee requested, as an accommodation for her disability, that she be allowed to work remotely so that she would not have to interact with that co-worker. The employer agreed to allow the employee to work from home on most days, but, insisted that she would still need to be available to come to the office for meetings, trainings, and collaboration. In addition, the employer stated that it could not guarantee that she would not run into that co-worker even if her cubicle were to be moved to the other side of the office. The employee claimed that the employer was not providing her with reasonable accommodation in violation of the ADA. (Solloway v. White.) In this case, the court held that allowing the worker to telecommute and guaranteeing she would have no further contact with a particular employee, posed an undue hardship for the employer, as the employee’s physical presence was required in the office from time to time for meetings, training, and collaboration. The court held that the employer could not reasonably control or restrict the movements of the co-worker, such as to ensure the two employees never came into contact.
California courts have taken a different approach, however, when employees have requested reasonable accommodation specifically stemming from sexual harassment, bullying, irritants or uncontrollable bodily functions. In such cases, employers have been allotted no room for undue hardship claims and the employer has had to try everything possible to accommodate the employee. In one particular case, a plaintiff, who worked as a steel reseller, suffered from irritable bowel syndrome. She requested to work from home as needed as an accommodation. Instead, the courts permitted the employer to require her to be in the workplace, but, to offer her other accommodations such as moving her office closer to the restroom and looking for other jobs at the company that may better accommodate telecommuting. (EEOC v. Ford) This is an example of what the courts expect from employers when they participate in the required interactive process. In addition, courts have not perceived it as an undue hardship when requiring employers to prohibit certain scents, including cologne or perfume, from the workplace when it irritated certain employees. Clearly then, the trend is toward increasingly better workplace conditions and having the employers do what they reasonably can to accommodate employees.