​Can Your Employer Deny You a Chair as a Disability Accommodation?

Man with Back Pain Needs Chair at Work

Disabilities come in all shapes, sizes, and severity. Sometimes accommodating for an employee's disability requires special equipment or a flexible schedule. Other times, all that is needed is a chair. But employers sometimes refuse even the simplest requests, leading some workers to wonder if your employer can deny you a chair as a disability accommodation.

In this blog post, I will review a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Grand Hyatt for disability discrimination. I will discuss what reasonable disability accommodation may include, and how a court may answer the question “can your employer deny you a chair?”

New York Hyatt Hotel Denies Employee Disability Accommodation

Grand Hyatt New York, Inc. operates a large hotel at Grand Central Terminal in New York City. It is part of a network of Hyatt hotels across the U.S. and internationally. So when a front desk agent filed a disability accommodation request, it was reasonable for him to expect the request to be taken seriously.

The agent, who is not named in the recent press release by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), suffered from chronic back pain. To relieve his pain he made a simple request: he asked for a chair as a disability accommodation. At first, Grand Hyatt granted the request, allowing him to sit while working the front desk for two weeks. But then, the employer took his chair away and denied his request for disability accommodation.

Americans with Disabilities Act Requires Employers to Make Reasonable Disability Accommodations

The front desk agent's request was based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal civil rights law that prevents discrimination against employees based on their medical history or disabilities. The law prohibits employers from making employment decisions (hiring, firing, promotion, etc.) based on a person's disability. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees or applicants to enable them to do their jobs.

The disability accommodation requirement is not unlimited. An employer is allowed to deny requests that are unduly burdensome, or would cause significant difficulty or expense to the employer. Determining what is a reasonable disability accommodation can depend on:

  • The effect of the request on the employer's ability to do business
  • Whether there are other employees available to cover activities the disabled individual cannot perform
  • The cost of providing the disability accommodation
  • The employer's size and access to resources
  • The employer's history of providing similar accommodations to other employees

Can Your Employer Deny You a Chair as a Disability Accommodation?

When the front desk agent's request for a chair was denied, he filed a complaint with the EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But Grand Hyatt still would not agree to the disability accommodation, so the EEOC has filed a lawsuit on his behalf. The question for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in EEOC v Grand Hyatt New York, Inc., (Civil Action No. 1:18-CV-07374) is whether your employer can deny you a chair as a disability accommodation. Said another way, can a request for a chair be unduly burdensome or cause significant difficulty or expense to the employer? The EEOC doesn't believe so.

“Federal law on disability accommodations is very clear and fair – employers must provide a reasonable accommodation as long as it causes no undue burden,” said Kevin Berry, the EEOC’s New York District director. “A request for a chair is hardly likely to create such a burden.”

When a request for disability accommodation is simple, like asking for a chair to sit in, a shift change, or a change in lighting, it is up to the employer to show why the accommodation was denied and that granting it would have been unreasonable. EEOC Trial Attorney Kirsten Peters added,

“A refusal to provide a simple, low-cost accommodation to an individual with a disability is a clear violation of the law. This lawsuit could have easily been avoided if Grand Hyatt New York had done the right thing.”

Options for Disabled Employees Seeking Accommodation

The ADA may require employers to make reasonable disability accommodations, but that doesn't mean your boss is going to make it easy for you. The employment discrimination attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, know how to talk to employers big and small. From our main office in New York City, we can help employees across the country negotiate for accommodations to address their medical needs, sometimes without having to file a formal complaint. When negotiations fail, we can work with the EEOC and the federal courts to get you the accommodations, and damages, you deserve.

Disabled employees have the right to work with dignity. Your job shouldn't cause you pain and suffering. If your employer is denying you accommodations for your documented medical needs, contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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