“The ADA is not a weapon that employees can wield to pressure employers into granting unnecessary accommodations or reconfiguring their business operations.” The Sixth Circuit reaffirmed this fact in Tchankpa v. Ascena Retail Group, Inc., a case involving an employee’s request to work from home due to a shoulder injury. The interactive process in Tchankpa lasted more than 10 months, and throughout, the employee demanded to work from home and the employer asked for medical proof that the employee “had a restriction requiring an accommodation.”
While, “an employer’s failure to grant a reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee falls under the ADA’s definition of discrimination,” the employee must establish an actual need for an accommodation and a link between what he is requesting and identified medical restrictions. This is because a “reasonable” accommodation must “address a key obstacle preventing the employee from performing a necessary function of his job” due to “physical [or mental] limitations.” What is clearly not required is that employers provide accommodations requested solely for the “convenience” of the employee.
While making clear that “employees cannot mandate an accommodation” and that “employers may request medical records supporting the employee’s request for accommodation” and “linking” the medical condition and the requested accommodation, the Sixth Circuit also reminds employers that the ADA interactive process requires employers to review the specific job held by the employee in question and determine its essential functions. Employers must then review the employee’s limitations and “how those limitations can be overcome” to permit the employee to perform those essential functions. Finally, in determining whether a requested accommodation is “reasonable” under the ADA, an employer must look at “the effectiveness” the requested “accommodation would have in enabling the individual to perform the job” and only then “the preference of the employee.”
“An employee’s failure to provide requested medical documentation supporting an accommodation precludes a failure to accommodate claim.” Moreover, even when a doctor’s note is provided, proof that an employee suffers from a medical condition “isn’t enough.” The medical documentation must address the employee’s “inability to perform the job.”
A few key takeaways for employers:
- If you need medical documentation to determine an employee’s limitations, ask for it! The employer won here because it made the request. This case does not stand for the proposition that employees must unilaterally provide medical documentation without a request from the employer.
- If you don’t need medical documentation, don’t ask for it. Tchankpa’s request to work from home due to a shoulder injury did not make sense, and he failed to ever logically explain how working from home would address a “key obstacle preventing him from performing a necessary job function.” This will not always be the case. Where the employee’s limitations are readily apparent and the requested accommodation clearly addresses those limitations, a request for medical information is likely not necessary or appropriate.
- Don’t be the one to break down the interactive process. The employer here worked with the employee for nearly a year and provided him “a combination of paid time off and flexible scheduling” to permit him to receive medical treatment for his shoulder and still perform his job duties. You don’t have to give in to an employee’s every demand, but you do need to work to identify what is necessary to enable the employee to perform his job.