Breaks And Accommodations For Disabilities

Written exclusively for ChubbWorks

Club Demonstration Services, Inc. agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

A woman with a bladder condition worked for the defendant as a sales advisor at the Costco Warehouse in Juneau, Alaska.

According to the allegations contained in the lawsuit, in June 2017, her manager told her she could not use the bathroom during her six-and-a-half-hour shift except when she was on her two scheduled breaks.

The employee's bladder condition required her to use the bathroom more frequently, and she submitted a physician's note to the employer, requesting more frequent bathroom breaks. However, the employer allegedly denied the employee's repeated requests and failed to provide her with additional bathroom breaks.

In addition to paying $50,000 in monetary relief, the consent decree settling the suit requires Club Demonstration Services to "implement policies to ensure compliance with laws prohibiting disability discrimination and requiring reasonable accommodation, provide anti-discrimination training with an emphasis on disability and reasonable accommodation, and report to the EEOC all complaints of disability discrimination it receives from its employees in Alaska for the next two years." "Club Demonstration Services to Pay $50,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit" (Oct. 07, 2021).

Commentary and Checklist

Failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability who needs one violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process to determine the availability of a reasonable accommodation that would allow the employee to fulfill the essential duties of the job.

Generally, employers think of their break policy in the context of federal, state, and local wage and hour laws.

However, in this case, exposure arose not because the employer’s break policy violated a wage and hour law, but because it violated the ADA’s accommodation requirements. Rigid break schedules can create EEO exposure.

Always consider all requests for disability accommodation on a case-by-case basis. In appropriate circumstances, providing additional breaks is often viewed as reasonable.

Employers should follow these guidelines for handling accommodation requests to avoid a disability discrimination lawsuit:

  • When presented with an accommodation request, evaluate the limitations, if any, that the disability creates for the applicant or employee, and how the limitations affect the individual's ability to perform the essential functions of the job, if at all.
  • Identify specific job tasks that may be problematic as a result of these limitations.
  • If possible, allow for an independent evaluation. Consider recommendations provided by the employee's healthcare provider.
  • Determine all accommodations available to reduce or eliminate limitations by consulting medical and legal professionals and support organizations for the particular disability.
  • Allow an applicant or employee with a disability to provide a list of possible accommodations. However, employers have the right to choose among effective accommodation options and do not have to accept the accommodation requested by the employee.
  • Once accommodations are in place, meet with the employee and others to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations. If not effective, determine whether different accommodations could be.
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