Monday, August 24, 2009

A lesson on reasonable accommodations

My family and I went to Sesame Place last Friday. As we were preparing to leave the park, my three-year-old daughter noticed a queue for Cookie Monster and Telly Monster, and asked if she could see the characters before we left. When we got to the end of the line, however, the handler told us that the line was closed. If you want to know what absolute dejection looks like, you should have seen the look on my daughter’s face. She began to uncontrollably cry, sobbing that she just wanted to give Cookie a hug. I began to plead with the employee to reopen the line for my daughter, but she told me that doing so would be unfair to the hundreds of other children she had already turned away. My daughter’s genuine tears must have moved the employee, though, because she granted us VIP access to the holding area where all of the characters that march in the parade. Instead of just getting to hug Cookie and Telly, my daughter got to meet and hug every character in the park.

This parable holds a very good lesson for employers when dealing with a disabled employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation. The employee is not entitled to an accommodation of his or her choosing. Instead, the employer may choose among available accommodations as long as the chosen accommodation is effective. If more than one accommodation is effective, the employer has the ultimate discretion to choose between effective accommodations. Cost, ease of provision, and the employee’s preference are factors to be considered, but are not dispositive. Instead, as part of the interactive process, the employer may offer alternative suggestions and discuss their effectiveness in removing the workplace barrier.

My daughter would have been very happy at the back of the line to meet Cookie Monster. That accommodation, however, was not feasible. In your workplace, the alternative will not always work out as well for the employee as it did for my daughter. Engaging in the required dialogue with the employee, however, helps both sides come to an understanding as to the reasonableness of the proffered accommodation.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or