Human Resources News & Insights

ADA: Did company have to accommodate needle-phobic pharmacist when job changed?

There’s a lot of pressure on employers to accommodate individuals who fall under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

But a recent court case confirms there are reasonable limits to your responsibilities.

Couldn’t give immunizations

Stevens v. Rite Aid involved a pharmacist named Christopher Stevens, who worked for Rite Aid for 34 years before the pharmacy company decided it was going to require its pharmacists to give immunization injections to customers.

Problem was, Stevens had a phobia of needles – a condition known as trypanophobia. If he had to inject a customer, he said he would likely faint, causing an unsafe situation for both the pharmacist and the patient.

Stevens asked that he be excused from administering the injections because of his disability. Rite Aid said performing customer immunizations was an essential function of his job; therefore, an accommodation would be unreasonable.

Stevens took his case to federal court, where a jury awarded him $2.6 million in damages.

But an appeals court overturned that decision. “[Stevens’] inability to perform an essential function of his job as a pharmacist is the only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from the evidence,” the judge said, agreeing with Rite Aid’s position.

Case closed.

7-pt. interactive process checklist

When it comes to accommodations, employment law attorney Patti C. Perez of Ogletree Deakins suggests employers use this seven-point checklist to make sure they’re ready to engage in the ADA’s interactive process:

1 Define the process. Does your company have an easy-to-follow process for making accommodation requests? Tip: Have one person handle all requests.

2 Communicate. Begin a conversation with the employee as soon as he or she requests an accommodation, and document all interactions with him or her.

3 Gather employer documents. Compile relevant documents, like the employee’s job description, department expectations and performance evaluations. The more information you have, the easier it’ll be to create an accommodation plan.

4 Gather employee documents. Ask the employee for a detailed description of his or her restrictions. Keep the conversation on the restrictions – not on the medical condition itself.

5 Perform “match analysis.” Based on the employee’s restrictions, does a reasonable accommodation exist that would allow the person to continue to perform his or her job?

6 Explain your decision. Discuss the finer points of your final decision with the employee.

7 Follow up. Check in with the employee and managers after the accommodation is in place to make sure everything’s working.

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