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

Category Archives: Terminations

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.

How can I fire a pregnant employee without getting sued?

You can’t.   OK, that’s an overstatement; there are times it might make sense, but it is always a high-risk move. What is the most important factor in whether an ex-employee files a lawsuit against an employer? Anger? Feeling unfairly treated? Need for money? Those are all way up there. But I think the top reason… Continue Reading

Get the employee’s side of the story in his or her own words

An employee’s version of events resulting in discharge often change significantly over time. One cause of this change is likely because the employee’s interests change. When an employer is addressing performance or conduct issues before discharge, the employee’s primary interest is usually working with the employer to remain employed. When an employee files a lawsuit… Continue Reading

The Key to Easier Terminations

Terminations are never easy.  But I learned as a manager that one thing, giving the employee advance warning and an opportunity to improve, was one key to making terminations easier for me and for the employee.  As an employment lawyer, I have learned that the advance warning, and specifically a final written warning, coupled with… Continue Reading

Get the Whole Story

One of my favorite references to the Shirley Sherrod fiasco last week came from Peter Sagal, host of National Public Radio’s weekly radio broadcast “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”  “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” is an entertaining quiz show based on the week’s news.   When Sagal was discussing  USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s firing of Sherrod… Continue Reading