The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected an employer’s request to find that a permanent, full-time job coach is never a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to enable them to perform their essential job functions or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment, absent an undue hardship. Courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have acknowledged that there are some accommodations that are unreasonable as a matter of law – such as indefinite leave or reassignment in violation of a seniority system.
In EEOC v. Walmart, the employer argued that a permanent full-time coach fell into that category. The Seventh Circuit, however, rejected the employer’s argument. It clarified that the accommodation must itself create “an inability to do the job’s essential tasks” in order to be per se unreasonable. Otherwise, courts must apply the ADA’s “default fact-based case-by-case approach” to assess the reasonableness of the requested accommodation. The Seventh Circuit acknowledged that, “To be sure, employers need not pay twice for the same work” if another employee is performing the essential functions of the job for the disabled employee; however, that was not at issue in this case as the employee’s job coach was paid for by Medicaid, not the employer.
Thus, employers should take note that a full-time job coach – even one who may be assisting the employee to do the essential functions of the job (but not performing it for them) – may be a reasonable accommodation. It is necessary to engage in a case-by-case assessment.