Do you have to accommodate an employee when their disability prevents them from wearing the proper safety gear?
The 4th Circuit ruled no in a recent lawsuit. Here’s a breakdown.
Fired for disability?
Shelia Holmes worked as a shelter fabricator for General Dynamics Missions Systems in Virginia. Because she operated heavy machinery, Holmes was required to wear steel-toed boots for her safety.
But Holmes had a medical condition for which she had to wear flexible footwear – a direct conflict with her job’s safety requirements.
For two years, the company worked with her to find an ADA accommodation that would work, even exploring the idea of getting her custom-made shoes. When Holmes rejected this accommodation, the company considered exempting her from this safety requirement, but ultimately decided it couldn’t. Holmes was then let go.
She filed a disability discrimination lawsuit, but the 4th Circuit ruled in favor of the company. The court said not only did the company go out of its way to try to accommodate Holmes, but she wasn’t even qualified for her job anymore because her disability prevented her from wearing the required PPE.
The ADA doesn’t ask employers to change essential job requirements for a disabled employee, the court said.
Cite: Holmes v. General Dynamics Missions Systems Inc., 12/9/20.