A client recently received a request from a salesperson who suffers from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The employee said that certain customers acted in ways that triggered her symptoms, and she requested an accommodation that would permit her to terminate such sales calls and not deal with such individuals in the future. The employer was at somewhat of a loss in trying to analyze a request it believed was unworkable, but it was concerned that it might have difficulty demonstrating an unreasonable hardship under the ADA.
When reviewing ADA accommodation requests, employers often focus entirely on the undue hardship question. Instead of determining the cost or disruption presented by the accommodation, employers should first ask themselves whether the request even falls under the definition of an ADA accommodation. Remember that in order to be covered under the ADA, the request must be something that permits the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Even if the requested changes are feasible, if the employee cannot perform those essential functions, the request may be declined without the need to demonstrate undue hardship.
In our client’s situation, we determined that the ability to deal with difficult persons and to complete sales despite these difficulties is an essential function of the sales job. While the requested accommodation could also be considered an undue hardship based on the cost (lost sales), we did not perform an analysis of these potential costs based on our conclusion that the request did not fall within the ADA’s definition of accommodations.
When reviewing requested job changes, employers should first ask themselves whether the measures would effectively allow the employee to get the core job duties done. If the answer is no and alternative accommodations cannot be identified, the legal analysis can stop at this point, even if the financial or other costs of the request cannot be quantified.