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Reasonable accommodations in the workplace

Disability discrimination is a serious matter and it goes well beyond the visual and verbal.

Protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it covers all types of discrimination. An employer can't hire or fire a worker based on a condition, but it's also illegal to harass an employee for a disability (past or present) and to deny reasonable accommodation.

The Dollar General case

Dollar General in Maryville, Tenn. found out the hard way, when the discount general merchandise store didn't allow a diabetic employee to drink juice at the cash register regardless of blood sugar level. When she later drank a beverage before paying for it (but paid for the transaction before confessing to her supervisor), she was fired. With legal help form the EEOC, she was awarded both compensation and back pay for missing wages.

Practice vs. policy

Dollar General had rules to accommodate employees but a supervisor failed to follow policy, leading to the suit. This emphasizes that while companies create guidelines to follow the law, practice and policy are different matters. It's up to individual employees and supervisors to make sure that needs are being met.

Cornell University's database of disability statistics lists that Maryland has over 285,000 citizens of working age with disabilities in the state, all manner of disabilities from diabetes to blindness to nerve problems.

What is reasonable accommodation?

The key to ADA enforcement in the workplace is meeting reasonable needs. The cashier in question should have access to nutritional needs just as an employee with a bad back can use a standing desk instead of a standard office cubicle.

Unreasonable accommodations are cost prohibitive measures and special treatment that put the employer's bottom line at risk. This varies greatly by the size and nature of a business, small to large or emphasizing physical labor versus office-oriented tasks.

The ADA means that workers with disabilities have the right to be themselves at work without fear of retribution and harassment. If something feels unfair or not quite right, or if there's feeling that you'll face retaliation for speaking up about your own special needs, the EEOC and ADA exist to protect you. Consulting with an employment attorney can help define reasonable accommodation as well as the best route to making your workplace more comfortable. Or, in a worst case scenario, seeking compensation for misdeeds.

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Costello & Mains, LLC

18000 Horizon Way, Suite 800
Mount Laurel, NJ 08054

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