- Reassignment to a new manager is not a reasonable accommodation required by federal disability nondiscrimination law, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed (Bender v. Department of Defense, No. 21-12103 (11th Cir. Aug. 26, 2022)).
- The employee worked at a commissary on an Air Force base in Georgia, according to court documents. Her manager allegedly engaged in hostile behavior by scheduling work shifts that conflicted with her ability to care for her daughter; changing her schedule without notice; intentionally short-staffing her area; marking her absent when she worked; and retroactively altering her time sheets. She developed anxiety and depression and took unpaid leave. While on leave, she sued the U.S. Department of Defense, alleging it refused to consider a doctor’s recommendation that she be reassigned to a different location “without supervision of present management,” in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the federal sector’s counterpart to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- A federal district court dismissed the complaint, and the 11th Circuit affirmed. Contrary to the employee’s assertion, she was not requesting reassignment to a vacant position but rather asking for a new supervisor, the 11th Circuit said. That was not a reasonable accommodation, it concluded, so she had no cause of action under the Rehab Act.
Courts have consistently held that providing a new supervisor is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and the Rehab Act. In 2018, for example, the 3rd Circuit rejected the claim of an HR coordinator with mental and physical disabilities who alleged she needed a new supervisor because her current supervisor expressed indifference about her medical issues. “Reasonable accommodation does not entitle an employee to a supervisor ideally suited to her needs,” the 3rd Circuit said.
Still, for some individuals, differences of opinion and communication styles with a supervisor can create challenges at work, the Job Accommodation Network has previously pointed out. Differences that can’t be worked out may elevate workplace stress, making it difficult for some people to effectively perform their job functions, the organization explained. People with anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder may find it necessary to discuss job accommodations related to less-than-cooperative interactions with a supervisor, it said.
Although employers generally don’t have to provide a new supervisor, nothing in the ADA or the Rehab Act prohibits them from doing so, according to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance. So if it’s possible and makes sense in a given situation, employers could consider such shifts, JAN said.
But employers have other options, such as training for supervisors, JAN also noted; for example, certain management techniques can support an inclusive workplace culture and effectively accommodate employees who may have difficulty communicating with a supervisor or need alternative methods of supervision. The organization said these techniques include developing clear expectations of responsibilities and the consequences of not meeting performance standards; providing day-to-day feedback; and developing strategies to deal with conflict.