I have a problem with an employee who has a medical disability. Since probation’s ended, he’s used the condition to be unavailable every morning for at least 45 minutes and throughout the day for up to an hour each time.

He’s part of an outdoor crew that must start on time and work as a team to complete each day’s assignments. This employee’s “abuse” results in at least several hours of not being on the job, requiring the rest of the crew to make up for the work he’s not doing.

Human Resources says we must accommodate him. Does forcing coworkers to do some of his work constitute “reasonable accommodation”? — Mike, Georgia


My disabilities don’t give me the right to impose on coworkers and colleagues. Seldom does my presence on construction sites and facility surveys increase anyone else’s workload.

I’m sure your crew’s morale is descending into a cauldron of anger, frustration, and near rebellion, and I don’t blame them. Inadvertent or not, forcing coworkers to pick up the slack isn’t what the law intends.

Furthermore, your agency is not required to reassign some of this employee’s duties to achieve reasonable accommodation.

A brief vocabulary lesson

Every job has essential functions, which are non-negotiable; and marginal functions, which can be tweaked to make reasonable accommodations.

Essential functions are why the job exists. For example, an essential function of a typist is the ability to type; an essential function of a bus driver is the ability to drive.

Requiring that job candidates be able to perform essential functions ensures no one’s disqualified for not being able to perform the position’s incidental functions.

Determining an appropriate accommodation is a case-by-case decision. The principal test is effectiveness: Does the proposed accommodation give the disabled employee an opportunity to achieve the same performance level as able-bodied coworkers?

A crew is made up of individuals whose work is judged collectively. They must work as a team. Forcing some members to compensate for another’s lack of contribution isn’t reasonable.

I strongly suggest addressing changes in an organized and thoughtful process as soon as possible. Contact your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office for guidance. Also, share this information with human resources and, if appropriate, the union steward.

It’s important to remember that empathy is essential for achieving reasonable accommodations. Sympathy only brings negative outcomes affecting everyone involved.

For more information

Since you have my last article on this subject, I won’t repeat from it. Instead, I’m sharing information how essential job functions and job restructuring relate to making reasonable accommodations.

  • The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division clarifies what’s required of a disabled person to qualify for a job in terms of essential functions.
  • The EEOC addresses reallocating essential job functions.