Can an HR professional adequately perform her job duties if she’s unable to communicate verbally?
A recent Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit examined that very question.
In Carlson v. City of Spokane, an HR analyst brought suit against her employer for violating the ADA. Here’s some background on that suit, courtesy of the folks at the The Employer Handbook:
Leave, accommodations and more
Liane Carlson suffered a stroke while working as an HR specialist for the City of Spokane. Following the stroke, Carlson went on leave and was granted a number of accommodations from the city. Then, Carlson’s doctor recommended that the company provide a number of additional accommodations such as a one-handed keyboard and speech recognition software — because Carlson had difficulty speaking after the stroke.
Even with the accommodation, the city was concerned Carlson couldn’t perform the essential functions of her job. So the city’s doctor’s recommended that Carlson be placed on a medical layoff for 60 days with the understanding that there would be a reevaluation of Carlson after that time period.
Carlson didn’t return to work after the 60-day period — or ever again. Instead, she filed an ADA lawsuit claiming the city failed to accommodate her disability.
Job description cited
What the court said
Although Defendants have undoubtedly established that some degree of communication is necessary to carry out the essential functions of the HR Analyst position, the Court is not convinced verbal communication is the only means by which employees can effectively communicate. Rather, as Plaintiff [Carlson] contends, verbal communication might merely be considered a method by which the other essential functions explicitly listed in the job description are performed.