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Elizabeth A. Semler
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Employment eAlert: Employees Not Entitled to Overly Risky ADA Accommodations

May 2012

Elizabeth A. Semler
503.243.1661 x 264
A recent Ninth Circuit case gives employers useful guidance about the ADA and reasonable accommodations for employees. In Samper v. Providence St. Vincent Med. Ctr. (9th Cir. Or. Apr. 11, 2012), a neo-natal intensive care (NICU) nurse had fibromyalgia, a condition that limits her sleep and causes her chronic pain. The nurse requested her hospital employer accommodate her condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by allowing her an unspecified number of unplanned job absences. The hospital refused, and the nurse sued the hospital, alleging it failed to accommodate her disability. Under the ADA, an employer must provide disabled workers a reasonable accommodation, if such accommodation enables the worker to perform the essential functions of the job. Whether a particular accommodation is reasonable requires a "fact-specific, individualized analysis."

The Ninth Circuit sided with the hospital, reasoning that in the context of the neo-natal care unit in which the nurse worked (which offers a high level of intensive care to premature infants), regular attendance is an "essential function" of the NICU nurse position, and requiring a hospital to provide an accommodation that would compromise performance quality "could, quite literally, be fatal."

Bottom line: The ADA does not require employers to accommodate disabled employees where the accommodation is unreasonable. Accommodations that substantially undermine the "essential functions" of a job (such as addressing of clients' critical medical care needs) are not reasonable.

If you would like more information about the ADA and reasonable accommodation, or have questions about any employment law issues, please feel free to contact us.

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