Employees or applicants with disabling medical conditions must place the employer on notice of such condition in order to claim protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, as reminded in a new decision from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, employees do not need to use “magic words” in order to trigger these accommodation obligations.

In Mestas v. Town of Evansville, the plaintiff alleged that after returning to work following a medical leave for a back injury, his supervisor told his colleagues not to assist him with work he was having difficulty completing due to the injury. He was terminated after reinjuring his back and sued under the ADA, claiming retaliation and failure to accommodate. The district court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that the town was unaware that the employee’s asking for help involved ADA accommodation requests.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit reversed this decision, remanding the matter for trial. The court said that employers must consider employee’s requests for help under the ADA accommodation framework, even if they do not cite the law or specifically ask for accommodations. The town was aware that the plaintiff had suffered a back injury, and his request for assistance with his work due to lingering issues with his back were enough to trigger the ADA accommodation process.