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Alternative Accommodation Provides Amazon Worker What he Needs

10 May, 2023 Chris Parker

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Lexington, KY (WorkersCompensation.com) – If the Rolling Stones were writing about the ADA instead of parties and painting “it black” (whatever that means), they might have had something useful to say about employers’ obligation to reasonably accommodate their workers.

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you’ll find, you get what you need,” is a lyric that arguably describes one of the lessons in Gabbard v. Amazon.Com Services, LLC, No. 5:22-058-DCR (E.D. Ky. 05/01/23).

The case involved a customer escalation insight project manager who sought accommodations for his anxiety, hypersomnia, and ADHD. Hypersomnia, he said, caused him to have difficulty staying awake at work.

He sought intermittent medical leave as an accommodation. He also asked to be allowed to continue using his laptop computer and preferred software after Amazon implemented a new operating system in 2020. The company provided him with leave and vocational coaching but refused to allowing to continue using the old laptop and software.

The employee sued the company for violating the ADA.

The court explained the following regarding accommodation requests:

(1) An employer violates the ADA if it fails to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee, unless that accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

(2) An employer doesn’t necessarily have to provide the accommodation that the employee prefers. Even if a requested accommodation is reasonable, “employers are not required to accommodate an employee in the exact way he or she requests,” the court wrote.

Workers' Comp 101: What is a reasonable accommodation? As the U.S. Department of Labor defines it, a reasonable accommodation under the section of the ADA that applies to employment settings is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process. 

When seeking an accommodation, the employee bears the burden to propose an accommodation that is reasonable on its face.

Once the employee requests a reasonable accommodation, it’s up to the employer to show the accommodation would impose an undue hardship.

In short, employees who need accommodations for a disability can’t always get what they want—but they may get what they need. One of the lessons for employers is that, if they decline a requested accommodation, but provide a different one, they need to be ready to prove that the accommodation they provided was reasonable and appropriate.

Here, the employee didn’t get his desired accommodation—the ability to continue using his old computer and software after a company-wide hardware upgrade. However, the company established that in this case, the request was not reasonable.

“Amazon has provided testimony indicating that the computer change was part of a ‘systemwide hardware upgrade,’ and that the software could not be loaded onto the new computer due to Amazon's security policies,” the court wrote.

Further, the company provided the employee another option for an accommodation. It allowed him to use the software and websites he liked on a separate computer. It also provided him with weeks of vocational training to help him maneuver between the two systems, the court stated.

Because the employee didn’t show this accommodation was unreasonable, he failed to establish a viable claim that he was denied a reasonable accommodation.

The court granted Amazon’s request to dismiss the worker’s ADA claim.

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