THE accommodation or AN accommodation?

accomodationA Third Circuit decision  has been issued which confirms that an employer is only required to offer an ADA-qualified employee a reasonable accommodation. An employer is not required to provide the employee with the accommodation that the employee requests or prefers. In this particular case, the employee suffered from asthma which affected her ability to work with certain chemicals in her job. Upon receiving a request for an accommodation under the ADA, the employer offered the employee the option of wearing a full face respirator while working. The employee was subsequently fitted with the respirator, but she only used it a few times because it made her claustrophobic and caused her to suffer a panic attack.  Subsequently, the employer offered her a partial face respirator, which she refused to try.  Instead, the employee requested transfers to other facilities where she would not need to work around the chemical that aggravated her asthma.

Later, the employee filed suit against the employer alleging, among other things, that the employer had failed to accommodate her under the ADA.  The Third Circuit Court ultimately found that the employee was not a “qualified individual” under the ADA because she refused to try the partial face respirator made available to her.  The Court found that the offer to provide her with a partial face respirator was a reasonable accommodation.  In support of this holding, the Court noted that the record included testimony that the partial face respirator could have alleviated the employee’s claustrophobia problems while still protecting her from the effects of exposure to the chemicals.  The Court further found that there was no requirement to provide the employee with the accommodation specifically requested by her, but rather the employer only needed to provide a reasonable accommodation.

On this basis, we remind employers that although they are required to engage in the interactive process and to provide reasonable accommodations to ADA qualified employees, they are not necessarily obligated to grant the employee the requested accommodation when there is an alternative reasonable accommodation available.