Reasonable accommodation requirements for drivers
Motor carriers must keep a keen eye on their equipment, their loads, and their drivers. The regulations governing all this are anything but easy to navigate, and the business must also keep running. Many motor carriers have enough on their plate to keep a one-armed wallpaper hanger busy, but when a driver asks for an accommodation — a change to the workplace or the way work gets done — they might easily want to say, “enough is enough.”
Ignoring such a request or trying to brush it under the rug, however, comes with risks.
The employment provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require employers to provide reasonable accommodation to the known disability of an employee or applicant, as long as doing so does not pose an undue hardship. In fact, when employees request a change to the work or workplace, employers are to discuss the situation with the employee, with a focus on identifying an effective reasonable accommodation. Just what that accommodation might be is a wide and varied universe.
Let’s say, for example, that Clyde, one of your new drivers, requests to bring his service dog along on his routes to help him with his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your company, however, has a policy prohibiting animals in the trucks. Under the ADA, you would need to consider Clyde’s request, because an exception to a policy has been seen as a reasonable accommodation. If allowing the service dog would not pose an undue hardship, you would generally be expected to allow it.
Your drivers aren’t the only ones who might ask for an accommodation. What if Sharon, your dispatcher, asked for muted lighting because of her migraines? Again, you would need to talk to Sharon about this. Identify the barriers between Sharon’s limitations in relation to her job’s essential functions and work to break down those barriers.
Employees are often more well versed in their limitations and means of accommodating them, so they often have input on what has worked for them. Therefore, you need to consider their input as part of that interactive discussion. If the condition is not obvious, you may ask for medical information regarding the employee’s impairment and need for accommodation. Providing a list of the job’s essential functions can help the medical professional determine what tasks might be troublesome.
Unlike many of the trucking regulations, the ADA is far from black and white. You need to address each situation based on its own merits. What accommodation works for one employee with a medical condition might not work for another with the same condition. Individualized assessments are the name of the game.
More on undue hardship for drivers
If a particular accommodation would result in significant difficulty or expense considering your organization’s resources and circumstances in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing it, you would not need to provide that accommodation. Another accommodation, however, might not result in such challenges. The concept of undue hardship refers not only to financial difficulty, but to reasonable accommodations that are unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. You would need to assess on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular reasonable accommodation would cause undue hardship.
Allowing Clyde to bring his service dog along or obtaining muted lighting for Sharon would likely not cause undue hardship. Carriers need to look beyond the FMCSA.
Key to remember: Reasonable accommodation requirements are not black and white. You must look at the specifics of each scenario to determine the best course of action in assisting your employee.
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