Verdict Requiring Employer To Accommodate Worker’s Request For Service Canine Leaves Employers Scratching Their Ears…I Imply Heads – Employment and HR
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It all started when the Union Pacific Railroad informed employee Perry Hopman, a combat veteran, on two separate occasions that he could not allow his service dog – a 125 pound Rottweiler named Atlas – accompanying him to work to help him with his PTSD. Hopman was diagnosed after serving 18 months in Iraq, where he suffered traumatic brain injury after falling 15 meters from a helicopter.
A federal jury disagreed with the employer and awarded Hopman $ 250,000 in damages – and ordered the employer to allow Hopman to take Atlas to work to help him deal with his persistent PTSD symptoms.
Hopman worked as an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad. He asked his employer to address his post-traumatic stress disorder by allowing him to accompany him to work in another district on night trips. Hopman testified that with his PTSD, he suffered from flashbacks, depression, anxiety, and debilitating migraine headaches due to his brain injury. For his part, Atlas had received $ 10,000 worth of service dog training over two years and over 1,000 hours to remind Hopman to take his medication to perceive an onset of migraines (which allowed Hopman to take pre-migraine medication to manage most avoid severe symptoms) and act as a barrier between Hopman and others by giving Hopman space.
Despite the tearful facts, this case is particularly interesting in the context of disability discrimination because it does Not concern an employee who has had problems performing his or her essential professional duties. Rather, the testimony in the case was clear that Hopman was an exemplary employee without the help of a service dog – a fact that led the company to decide that Hopman did not need a service dog to perform his job duties and denied his request. Indeed, Hopman conceded that without his service dog by his side, he would have no problem performing all of the functions of his job safely, but testified that Atlas’ mere presence and trained skills would enable him to feel at work both physically and also to feel better mentally.
So the question arose in the case: Are exemplary employees without adequate accommodation who are eligible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) satisfactory? The jury answered with a clear “yes” and thus expanded the scope of accommodation for an employee according to the ADA.
This is like:
Under the ADA and comparable state laws, employers are required to provide an employee with a mental or physical disability with reasonable accommodation to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the employee’s work. In order to avoid having to submit an application for housing, an employer must prove, according to ADA, that accommodation for the disabled is an “unreasonable hardship”. Most cases start with an employee failing to perform essential work duties as expected by the employer. This leads to a conversation between employer and employee that the employee’s disability is at least partially the cause of this below-average work. The employee applies for certain workplace accommodation that the employer can provide without inflicting undue hardship on the employer himself in order for the employee to perform the essential functions of the job as expected by the employer. In other words, most cases of disability discrimination are due to performance issues. Here Hopman was “afraid” of what could happen if the dog weren’t there.
In this case, however, it was neither Hopman’s performance nor the fact that the requested placement did not cost the employer anything and did not pose an imminent danger to other employees. The employer’s argument that Atlas was too big for a small locomotive booth and that its presence would distract other workers was futile in allowing the worker to enjoy the same benefits and privileges as a worker without a disability. Specifically, the court found that the ADA allows an employee to request reasonable accommodation to enable the employee to “enjoy the same benefits and privileges of employment as other workers in a similar situation without disabilities”. This is an obvious extension of the ADA through an understanding of most employers and labor law professionals of the law.
This case is in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Arkansas and limits the scope of the ADA extension to employers within that jurisdiction and other jurisdictions with courts that have ruled similarly – although these are few. Employers bound by the judgment of the court should consider placement requests in the light of these case facts and remember that the ADA is not only about enabling an employee to perform the worker’s professional duties, but also to enable him to perform the worker’s duties enjoy the same terms of employment as other workers in a similar position. The burden on employers on this issue cannot be overestimated as it forces employers to look at placement requests from a different angle, that is, the employer does everything in his power to ensure that a level playing field for the worker is achieved how apply to other workers? So while Hopman scratched his floppy ears with delight, employers scratched their heads by engaging to find out what they are now being asked to do when reviewing disability-access applications and what the interactive process now brings with it , because it’s not just about the employee can perform adequately. The question now is whether the employee enjoys the same advantages and privileges of employment.
Notably, the attorney who represented Hopman previously had a similar case in San Antonio. That court ruled that the employer had violated the ADA by failing to house an Iraq war veteran who also suffered from PTSD. The employer waited more than six months after the employee’s request for reasonable arrangements to allow the employee to bring his service dog to work and only after restricting the movement of the service dog.
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