Employers know that refusing to accommodate or hire a disabled employee can end up being an ADA violation.
But what happens if the disabled person poses a danger to themselves and others?
A court addressed this issue in a recent lawsuit. Here’s a breakdown of the case.
Possibility of seizures
Russell Pontinen applied for a job at United States Steel Corporation in Indiana. He was eventually offered the job at the steel plant, in which he’d be operating torches, power tools and other heavy equipment.
After making the job offer, the employer discovered that Pontinen had a seizure disorder. It had been controlled with anti-seizure medication for many years, however Pontinen decided to stop taking his medication, against the advice of his doctor. This meant Pontinen was at high risk of a seizure.
The company took an in-depth look at Pontinen’s medical history and consulted with his doctor, ultimately concluding that Pontinen would be unable to perform his job safely. The job offer was revoked, citing Pontinen posed a direct threat to himself and his colleagues.
Pontinen sued, claiming a violation of the ADA.
Put everyone at risk
The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the employer. It said the company investigated Pontinen’s health issues fully before making the decision. The court reiterated Pontinen’s risk of seizures was high, and the nature of the job would be very dangerous for both himself and those around him if Pontinen were to lose consciousness during work.
Pontinen tried to argue that it had been years since he’d had a seizure, but the court said that him stopping his medication increased the risk of a seizure happening at any time.
The court’s decision is in line with the ADA, which permits employers to screen out a disabled employee if there is a “risk of substantial harm … that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.”
Direct threat assessment
So what can employers do if they find themselves in a similar situation as Pontinen and his employer? Here’s some advice from employment law attorney Fiona Ong of the firm Shawe Rosenthal LLP.
To properly make a direct threat assessment under the ADA, an employer can require an employee to undergo a medical assessment. It can also go over the employee’s medical history and speak with their doctor.
It would be wise to make a list of the job’s essential duties and how the employee’s condition may impact those as well.