A recent case highlights both that employers may not simply refer employees to the employee handbook in response to a request for accommodation and that they may need to consider accommodations beyond simply the one requested by a disabled employee.
In Garrison v. Dolgencorp, LLC, a “key holder” employee, who was required to be present at either the opening or closing of the store, requested a leave of absence for her medical condition from her manager by several text messages and in person. The manager responded that she should “read the employee handbook” and that leave was not available. After yet another request for medical leave was denied, the employee quit and sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that a jury could find that the employer had violated the ADA by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. Although the employee did not specifically request an “accommodation,” no “magic words” were needed. Rather, she had put the employer on notice that she needed an accommodation by informing her manager of her medical condition, her doctors’ visits, and by repeatedly requesting leave.
Once the employer knew of the employee’s need, it was required to engage in the interactive process to identify a reasonable accommodation. The Eighth Circuit specifically noted that referring the employee to the employee handbook was not enough. Moreover, had the employer engaged in the interactive process, it might have identified a reasonable accommodation; “After all, [the employer] was only obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation, not the particular one [the employee] requested.”