Office with a View as an ADA Accommodation

I dislike winter time, not because of the cold, though that doesn’t help, but because of the reduction of daylight. I get moody and surly. (I know, that is hard as that is to imagine.) I turn on all the lights in my office all seven of them. So in the winter time I probably suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). (Can I get a job making up acronyms?) I make this point because my attorney friend Jon Hyman wrote about a case involving SAD where the decision basically implies that providing an employee an office with a view as an ADA accommodation may be entirely reasonable. Jon wrote in his post, The season of the witch? The ADA and seasonal affective disorder, at the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog about the case of a school teacher who sued her school system for not providing her a classroom with outside windows. Her attorneys were able to convince the jury that she was protected by the ADA because the disorder. With the changes in the ADAAA on “major life activities” they argued that her SAD “substantially limited” a “major life activity”. This case was not a matter of someone simply claiming something minor and then suing. The teacher made repeated claims, got medical diagnoses and took leave of absences all while asking for an accommodation. The school system even had another teacher offer to trade classrooms. Yet they failed to act on the accommodation. Subsequently after several appeals the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District found “that (1) she was a qualified individual with a disability; (2) Somerset was aware of her disability (after November 28, 2005); and (3) Somerset failed to reasonably accommodate that disability.” (Somerset was the school district.) You can read an analysis of the case by clicking on Employer Violated ADA by Failing to Accommodate SAD.  
If you read this I think you will agree that this school system missed the opportunity to avoid big problems by not making that accommodation when it was so readily and easily available. Jon in his analysis says “If an employee asks for an office with a view, do not necessarily write him or her off as a complaining, high-maintenance pain-in-the-you-know-what. If, like Ranae Ekstrand, an employee presents a physician’s note documenting a condition, take it seriously by seriously considering whether it presents that much of an imposition to find the employee some natural light during the work day. Some consideration and a small reasonable accommodation might save you a half-million dollar judgment.” Very sage advice.
Remember under the ADAAA the definitions of “disability”, “major life-activity” and “substantially limits” have all been significantly added to. You can view all this language at Regulations To Implement the Equal Employment Provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as Amended.
A key step in this process is that if an employee comes to you claiming a disability that needs an accommodation TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY. Document what they have said and document all discussions. Don’t automatically reject them. Once you have done the analysis then you can decide if their request to have the corner office on the top floor is reasonable or not.
Thanks to Greg Moore, SPHR for inspiration.

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