Monday, June 10, 2024

A ruff reasonable accommodation claim

Samantha Howard worked as a pharmacist for Boswell Regional Health Center. She suffers from Type I diabetes along with hypoglycemic unawareness, which prevents her from knowing when her blood sugar dangerously drops. To help manager her blood sugar, she requested a diabetic-alert service dog as a reasonable accommodation. The employer, however, denied the request because of hygiene concerns and risk of contamination to sterile work areas.

The 8th Cir. Court of Appeals heldheld that the employer had lawfully denied Howard's accommodation request for two key reasons: (1) she had performed her essential job functions for more than a year, and therefore the accommodation was not necessary; and (2) the employer had valid and legitimate concerns about contamination and risks to the sterility of the work environment.

Here are two key takeaways from this case for employers to consider.

1. Evaluate accommodation requests thoroughly: When a disabled employee requests a reasonable accommodation, consider all aspects of the request, including the employee's ability to perform essential job functions without the accommodation and the potential impact on operations. Document your evaluation process and reasoning thoroughly.

2. Balance the employee's request against operational feasibility: While it's important to support employees' health and well-being, accommodations should not compromise the core aspects of your business operations. Engage in an interactive process with the employee to explore alternative accommodations that might be less disruptive. In this case, Howard declined to work with her employer to determine any alternative accommodations. "She would not accept any accommodation other than bringing her service dog into the pharmacy," the court wrote. An employer is always able to choose a less expensive or less burdensome accommodation as long as it is effective, and this employee's failure to consider anything other than a service dog proved fatal to her claim.