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Reasonable Accommodation: A Cautionary Tale

The world is filled with crazy, horrible stories about employers who played games and either couldn't, didn't or otherwise ran from providing a reasonable accomodation to someone who had a disability.  First up, let me say this - I know all about the litmus test that has to applied to determine is a accommodation is "reasonable".

So don't think about the legal BS for a second.  You know why employers and HR pros really don't want to deal with disabilities, especially mental/emotional ones, in the workplace? Tweetstream 

Because they're never sure, once the commitment is made to provide an accommodation, that the commitment shown by the company will be reciprocated and work will be a top priority for the person in question.  Empathetic HR Pro?  Cool.  Let them be burned a couple of times and left holding the bag while the operations person in question wonders why they can't term and backfill an FTE, and the real world view changes.

Case in point.  Royce White of pro basketball's Houston Rockets.  The Rockets drafted White this summer, even in the face of White's frankness about the anxiety disorder he lives with, which has been written about widely.  The accommodation the Rockets seemed prepared to make was that whenever possible, White would drive rather than fly to games.  They also seemed resigned to the fact that the anxiety disorder would also cause White to miss away games due to the fear of flying.  But, they drafted him with the needed accommodation in mind, and White is enough of a talent that they thought the risk was worth the draft pick.  But it's never that easy.  White's been demoted to the D-League (basketball minor leagues) due to the fact White had not been seen in days, missing Monday’s HOME game and HOME practice on Tuesday.  The Rockets feel like he should show up.  But it's a slippery slope with a condition like this.  

More from the Big Lead:

The Rockets seem to think White should show up – or at least that is the point of view the media is pushing. And ownership isn’t doing much to quiet that notion. Via Ultimate Rockets:

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said there have been “internal repercussions, which I’m not going to talk about.”

More foreboding, Alexander’s confidence in White’s long-term prospects seem shaken since he expressed enthusiasm for White’s potential during the summer league in Las Vegas.

“That’s tenuous,” Alexander said. “It’s tough to talk about something like that. I think we’re going to handle it internally. If he doesn’t work out, well, it’s tough to lose a draft choice.”

Meanwhile, White said in a statement that the Rockets knew why he wasn’t around.

“In hindsight,” the statement said, “perhaps it was not a good idea to be open and honest about my anxiety disorder — due to the current situations at hand that involve the nature of actions from the Houston Rockets. As a rookie, I want to settle into a team and make progress; but since pre-season the Rockets have been inconsistent with their agreement to proactively create a healthy and successful relationship.

“At this point, the Rockets are aware of my position and the reason for my absence, any other response is inaccurate. This is important to me, it is a health issue. I must advocate for my rights, it is a player-commodity league — the failure to meet my requests for support will end with me being unhealthy and that is not a consequence that I am willing to accept to play any sport.”

The slippery slope is a familiar one for any HR pro.  Company values talented employee, stretches to make accommodation, then things go south.  Attendance is usually the issue front and center, and due to the knowledge of the disability in question, the accommodation that was made, etc, things fester.  Decisions aren't made.  The employee states that yes, they didn't show up as expected, but that's part of the condition in question.

Of course, not coming to work was never part of the reasonable accommodation.  But the accommodation provides an official awareness of the condition/disability in question, so dealing with the situation is now a legal mess that takes time.

That's called a slippery slope where I come from.  Or "holding the bag".  

Which means the next time around, willingness to make a reasonable accommodation from the hiring manager or HR pro is much more limited.   There's a business to run.

Note that I am aware of many, many talented individuals with disabilities who are among the best employees at their company.  But the slippery slope outlined above happens more than anyone wants to admit, which is why you see so much resistance on the accommodation front.

The Rockets thought he should show up to work at home games and practices.  He didn't do that, and now the accommodation request is expanding.  Tough stuff to deal with for your average HR Director.  See the tweet barrage from White to the right of the post.  And have a great day while you feel that familiar pain.

Comments

Shannon

Imagine if he had been with the team for the time required to be allowed to apply for and be granted intermittent FMLA leave. I can't think of many things scarier for an HR pro than dealing with ADA and intermittent FMLA simultaneously.

Joel Kimball

And here's exhibit 2,038,569,465,001 of everything wrong with employment law and legal decisions.

Burn me once...

John Hunter

Good thoughts. The biggest problem is that of going to extremes which are often encouraged by the way the legal system works. The larger the consequences of extreme measures the more likely people will want to avoid them.

I think most people would like to see reasonable accommodations. Often bureaucracies get tied to their normal procedures and could use more flexibility.

It is a reality that if those who are part of a interest group you care about expand the demands to far then people will just choose to remove dealing with that group at all. It might not be fair but as you say people learn from their experiences. I think those who advocate a certain interest and don't speak out against abuses of that interest make a mistake. Without limiting the unreasonable measure people just learn to realize if they start down the slippery slope they will be stuck with unreasonable demands. So they will just seek to avoid it - even if that means denying those who wouldn't be unreasonable opportunities.

Martin

It's just wrong! What is considered to be lawfully 'reasonable' and what is reasonable for a particular human being illustrates an immense difference!

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