Does the ADA Require Employers to Reassign Employees with Disabilities to Different Jobs?

Posted by Jeanine Gagliardi on Sun, 05/05/2013 - 04:00

In some circumstances, the ADA compels a business to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability. It can be difficult for a business to determine whether a requested accommodation is "reasonable." For example, we recently posted about a dispute concerning the reasonableness of a request for medical leave.

Another request an employer may have to consider is one for reassignment to a vacant position that would otherwise be filled by a competitive hiring process. Unfortunately, the courts have not yet given employers consistent guidance on how to respond to such requests.

Some courts have held that reassignment is a required accommodation under the ADA while others have concluded that it is not.

Most recently, in September 2012, in EEOC v. United Airlines, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that the ADA does require an employer to reassign an employee to a vacant position if (1) the employee is qualified for the position and (2) the assignment would not present undue hardship to the employer.

The U.S. Court of Appeals sitting in the 4th Circuit, which includes Maryland, has held on at least two occasions that reassignment could be a necessary accommodation under the ADA. The 8th Circuit, on the other hand, held that an employer need not accommodate an employee by reassigning him or her to a new job.

These cases illustrate the unsettled nature of the law concerning the reasonableness of a request for reassignment under the ADA. United Airlines has asked the United States Supreme Court to hear its case and reverse the 7th Circuit’s decision. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case and issues an opinion in the matter, that would help settle the law. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will hear the case. We will continue to monitor the matter.

In the meantime, employers should be mindful that, in some cases, they may need to grant requests for reassignment to positions that would otherwise be filled by a competitive hiring process.

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