New Appellate Decision Illustrates Importance of Communication About Disabilities at Work

A new decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal courts illustrates the importance of information an employee must provide an employer about needed accomodations for physical or mental conditions that affect one’s ability to perform the essential functions of a job. In Ekstrand v. School District of Somerset, decided October 6, 2009, the Court of Appeals found that an employer did not have to accomodate an employee with a room with exterior windows for several months, despite her request, because she did not provide a doctor’s note or tell the employer that her doctor said that was necessary for her to minimize the effects of a seasonal affective disorder. She did eventually provide a letter from her doctor stating that the exterior windows were necessary. The court found that until that time, the school district would not be held accountable for failing to provide that form of accomodation. The court essentially said that the knowledge of the employer is dependent on what the employee tells it, when it comes to knowledge of the disability and medical needs for accomodation. Bottom line is, an employee with a physical or mental disability is best served by communicating his or her needs and providing a letter or medical note from the doctor endorsing that request. Then, the employee must continue to communicate with the employer in an effort to inform the employer of the condition and working towards finding a reasonable solution to the employee’s needs with regard to an accomodation that will permit the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. If the communication process breaks down, the party responsible for breaking the communication will be at fault.

Leave a Reply