Washington Labor Law Blog: Insights on the Law for Washington Employers

Category Archives: Disability

Long hours, changing conditions, and availability to handle issues are essential functions of a Les Schwab assistant manager.

Peter Atkinson was a long-term Les Schwab employee with a history of chronic migraine headaches. After being promoted to a position of assistant manager, which required a more demanding schedule, he began to miss work, take time off to sit in the break room, and leave before his shift was over because of migraine symptoms. At other times, he continued to work but in a “lesser capacity” because of discomfort. According to his supervisor, Atkinson’s performance and motivation because increasingly worse.

Atkinson wanted Les Schwab to reduce his hours down to 40 to 50 per week and to allow him to schedule consistent, uninterrupted breaks. Les Schwab did not reduce his hours or the scheduled breaks. Les Schwab contended that because of the fast pace and high sales volume, the hours and management team’s presence were essential job functions.

Les Schwab ultimately removed Atkinson from his position. He sued Les Schwab for, among other things, failure to provide him with a reasonable accommodation in violation of RCW 49.60.

The Court of Appeals dismissed his claim. Atkinson v. Les Schwab Tire Centers of Washington, Inc., No. 44326-1-II, 2014 WL 1746110 (April 29, 2014). An employer is not required to eliminate or modify the essential functions of a job. The Court concluded that Atkinson’s requested changes would have required just that. The Court noted:

But long hours, changing conditions, and availability to handle issues that arise unexpectedly are key aspects of a managerial role. The Chehalis Les Schwab averaged more than 5 million dollars in sales annually. To handle this volume, there were nearly 30 employees and only 3 managers at any given time. The management team was expected to be at the location before the hourly employees and to stay later. The luxury of completely uninterrupted breaks was not available to managers as it may have been for others.

This case is another example of the limits on an employer’s obligation to provide accommodations. An employer can require employees, even those with disabilities, to perform essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation. Atkinson, though, did not want an accommodation to enable him to perform essential job functions; rather, he wanted the essential functions altered. That goes beyond an employer’s obligations.

Washington Court Addresses When an Accommodation is Reasonable

The Washington Court of Appeals recently addressed what constitutes a “reasonable” accommodation.  Frisino v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1.   Ms. Frisino, a teacher, took a leave of absence because of her sensitivity to airborne irritants in the classroom.  The parties agreed Ms. Frisino had a disability, and the district took several steps to accommodate her… Continue Reading

Final ADAAA Regulations Issued

The EEOC as finally released the new ADAAA regulations to the public.   You can get a copy of the new regulations here.   The regulations will be published in the Federal Register on Friday. We are still analyzing the  regulations, but one significant change from  the proposed rule is  the inclusion of nine rules of construction… Continue Reading

Accommodating Disabilities Affecting the Ability to Commute

Two recent cases show that employers must consider accommodating employees with disabilities affecting the ability to commute. In Colwell v. Rite Aid, a cashier became blind in one eye, which made it difficult and dangerous for her to drive at night.  Colwell sued for failure to accommodate her disability when Rite Aid refused to schedule… Continue Reading