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ADA reasonable accommodation cases can be tricky

Even here in Texas, government regulations on businesses can be pretty strict. This is especially true of regulations governing employee hiring and firing practices. As just one example, consider the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to allow employees (or potential employees) to perform their job duties successfully. Businesses are allowed to deny these accommodations only if they would present an “undue hardship.” While there have been some precedent-setting lawsuits since the ADA was enacted in the early 1990s, the terms “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship” are still somewhat ambiguous. This lack of clarity can lead to legal issues for even well-intentioned companies.

Recently, for instance, Papa John’s Pizza was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to news reports, a Papa John’s operating partner visited a store location in Utah and allegedly ordered that an employee with Down syndrome be fired because the employee required the assistance of a job coach.

Although the news article was not entirely clear on the details, it did say that the job coach was “independently employed.” As such, his or her wages were likely not paid by Papa John’s. However, the operating partner who made the decision to fire the employee may have felt that the presence of the job coach presented an undue hardship in other ways. If the kitchen was small, for example, an extra person in the kitchen might impede the work of other employees.

There are two takeaway lessons from this case. The first is that ADA cases are not always cut-and-dried. Reasonable people can disagree about what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” and what presents an “undue hardship.”

The other takeaway lesson for businesses is that if firing an employee with a disability (or another legally protected status) could lead to the appearance of discrimination, it is important to tread lightly. Consulting with an employment law attorney before making a potentially controversial firing decision could help shield your business from liability and bad press.

Source: Disability Scoop, “Suit Accuses Papa John’s Of Violating ADA,” Shaun Heasley, Sept. 30, 2014

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