- A hospital worker whose vision impairment complicated her daily commute was not entitled to her requested accommodation, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Unrein v. PHC-Fort Morgan, Inc. (10th Cir., April 8, 2021)).
- After the plaintiff became legally blind and could no longer drive the 120-mile daily commute to her job at a hospital, she asked for and received flexible work schedule for 15 months. The attempt, the court said, was a failure because she was unable to establish a regular, set schedule. She asked to telecommute, but the hospital denied her request, as the position required more than four hours of face-to-face interactions each day. Eventually, her employment was terminated.
- The plaintiff sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law, alleging the hospital failed to accommodate her disability. The trial court ruled for the employer, determining that an essential function of her job was physical presence at the hospital and on a set and predictable schedule. The 10th Circuit affirmed, reasoning that although the ADA places obligations on an employee to accommodate disabled employees, the obligation was "not absolute". The ADA requires employees to make only reasonable accommodations, the court opined. As a result, the hospital was not under an obligation to accommodate her inability to get to work. The appeals court noted that the plaintiff could eliminate the plaintiff's transportation barrier by moving closer to the hospital or obtaining reliable rides.
The court's analysis centered around a job's essential function. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces anti-discrimination laws like the ADA, has stated that "essential functions are the basic job duties that an employee must be able to perform."
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to enable workers with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Accommodations can range from improvements to workplace accessibility to job restructuring.
According to the Job Accommodation Network, the ADA does not obligate employers to transport employees with disabilities to and from work "unless the employer provides employee transportation to and from work as a perk of employment for all employees." "Transportation to and from the workplace is generally the responsibility of the employee," JAN writes, "but sometimes employees with disabilities are unable to drive and need to find alternative transportation."
While transportation is not generally a reasonable accommodation, employers may have to supply related accommodations, JAN said; "Employers may have to provide other accommodations such as changing an employee's schedule so he can access available transportation, reassigning an employee to a location closer to his home when the length of the commute is the problem, or allowing an employee to telecommute."