What Do You Think: Was Unilaterally Moving Desk Up One Floor Reasonable Accommodation?


Rockford, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) – An employer may violate the ADA if it denies a worker a reasonable accommodation for a disability.

But what if the worker accommodates himself at work but doesn’t specifically ask his employer to accommodate him. That was the question in a case in which a maintenance technician for a metal finishing company moved his workstation from the basement to the first floor to keep his back injury from flaring him.

Before coming to work for the company, the technician injured his back falling off a ladder. Flare-ups prevented the employee from working, according to his doctor.

The maintenance department of the metal finishing company was in the basement. Walking up and down stairs caused the technician’s back pain to flare. So, he moved his workstation to the first floor. Eventually, the company instructed him to move back to the basement. The company needed the space on the first floor.

According to the company, the technician did not ask to remain on the first floor as an ADA accommodation. On being told to move back to the basement, according to the employer, the technician said, "That ain't going to happen ... it's leaking chemicals down there."

A manager went with the technician to the basement but, according to the manager, there were no active leaks. The technician grudgingly moved back to the basement.

Two hours later, the company fired him, citing his bad attitude and insubordination.

The technician sued the company for failing to accommodate him.

Under the ADA, to establish a claim for failure to accommodate, an employee must show that: 1) he is a qualified individual with a disability; 2) the employer was aware of his disability; and 3) the employer failed to reasonably accommodate his disability.

Did the company violate the ADA?

A. Yes. An accommodation that is episodic is a disability within the meaning of the ADA if it substantially limits a major life activity, such as working, when the condition is active.

B. No. He didn’t ask to move to the first floor or to remain on the first floor as an accommodation.

If you chose B, you sided with the court in Kirchhoff v. Chem. Processing, Inc., No. 20 C 50242 (N.D. Ill. 01/11/23), which held that because the technician never requested an accommodation, the company had no obligation to accommodate him.

Although there was evidence that the employee moved to the first floor to address his back pain, there was no evidence that he requested to move there or to remain there as an accommodation.

“While plaintiff's statement of facts ... says he proposed to [his manager] places on the first floor where his workstation could have been relocated, he does not assert he told [the manager] he was seeking an accommodation for his disability,” the court wrote.

The court granted the employer summary judgment on the worker’s ADA claim.

This feature does not provide legal advice.

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