Can you perform the essential functions with or without a reasonable accommodation? Will a reserved parking spot help?


A reserved parking spot could be a reasonable accommodation.
A reserved parking spot could be a reasonable accommodation.

The title of this blog post, at least the first sentence, is a question that every HR interviewer should ask at the end of an interview. By asking this question most employers would think that they are asking a question about an accommodation that directly applies to the essential function itself. A recent court case however makes it clear that at least on Appeals Court does not think that is the case. They think a reserved parking spot would be a reasonable accommodation.
Parking spot as accommodation
According to attorney Michelle Tatum of FordHarrison “The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a request for a reserved, free on-site parking space could have been a request for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act…” The case dealt with a former district attorney who had a bad knee. She asked for a reserved parking spot as an accommodation. Her employer turned down the accommodation and she sued. The federal court ruled in favor of the employer saying that she had not shown how being denied the parking spot limited her ability to perform the essential functions of the job. Upon appeal the appeals court overturned the lower court.
Three categories of reasonable accommodation
According to Tatum “The Fifth Circuit held that nothing in the text of the ADA’s reasonable accommodation provision indicates that a requested accommodation must facilitate the essential functions of the employee’s position.” According to the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance:  Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act one area of accommodation is specifically stated as “making existing facilities accessible”. The court also noted that there are three categories of reasonable accommodation. According to the Enforcement Guidelines these are:

“(i) modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
(ii) modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; or
(iii) modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities”

The court’s conclusion was that the reserved parking spot would have provided the employee with appropriate access to the building thus allowing her to perform the essential functions of her job.
This case shows that an accommodation to perform essential functions does not always need to be related to the actual essential function. The HR professional needs to broaden her perspective in order to consider other possible accommodations that will allow the essential function to be performed.
If you would like to read Ms. Tatum’s article you can find it here.
For further ADA information see Accommodating Disabilities Business Management Guide Accommodating Disabilities Business Management Guide Use Priority Code OMEGAHR to get 15% OFF.

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