By Fiona W. Ong, Shawe Rosenthal LLP
Employees need to provide sufficient information to the employer that a health issue could be a disability that is interfering with their ability to work, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently found.
In Powley v. Rail Crew Xpress, LLC, the employee driver had back pain that interfered with her ability to work. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, she provided medical documentation and received reasonable accommodations for her back pain, including limits on her hours of work. After she was transferred to a dispatcher position, she complained that the noise in the office was giving her headaches and asked to be transferred back to a driver position. She continued to submit medical notes that limited her work hours. Following her resignation from the dispatcher position, she sued the company for failure to accommodate her disabilities by refusing to transfer her back to the driver position.
The Eighth Circuit rejected her claim, finding that the employee had sought and received many accommodations for her back pain, so she was clearly aware of the process for requesting and obtaining reasonable accommodations. She never submitted a doctor’s note or indicated that her request to return to a driving position was connected to her known disability – back pain. And although she complained that the noise in the office gave her headaches, the Eighth Circuit noted that “she did not identify these headaches as migraines, did not inform [the employer] that headaches or migraines interfered with her work, and did not suggest that her request was based on medical needs—as she had in past accommodation requests.”
This case supports the common-sense proposition that employees have a responsibility to give their employers enough information to indicate that they have a disability and need an accommodation. The ADA is not necessarily triggered simply because an employee complains of “headaches” or some other minor ailment.