The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently sued AutoZone, alleging that the employer violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by, among other things, failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to one of its employees. The employee had a 15-pound lifting restriction. According to the complaint, AutoZone had been accommodating the restriction for nearly two years, but decided to end the accommodation and terminate the employee.
The AutoZone case illustrates the fine line that employers walk in the accommodation process. Many times employers intend accommodations to be a short-term means of returning an employee to work while the employee is still healing. Allowing the accommodation to continue for too long, however, may deprive the employer of the ability to claim that continuing the accommodation is unreasonable or causes an undue hardship. How long is too long? There is no bright line rule. The EEOC obviously feels that two years is too long. Under Wisconsin disability discrimination law, an employer may be stuck providing an accommodation that it intended to be temporary if it has provided the accommodation for as little as eight months. The AutoZone case is a reminder that employers need to carefully evaluate possible accommodations to determine if they truly are reasonable and, even then, whether they cause an undue hardship to the employer.