BCLP At Work

BCLP At Work

ADA

Main Content

Temps in Tenth Circuit Face Stricter Scrutiny When Seeking Time Off as Reasonable Accommodation

On July 6, 2017, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reiterated that physical attendance in the workplace is an essential function of most jobs and emphasized this is particularly true for temporary workers filling short-term vacancies.

In Punt v. Kelly Services, the plaintiff, Kristin Punt, was a temporary worker assigned to work for GE Controls Solutions (“GE”) as a receptionist.  The essential functions of that job included being “physically present at the lobby/reception desk during business hours.”  However, during her six weeks in the position, Ms. Punt was absent or tardy on multiple occasions, often due to medical appointments related to a recent diagnosis of breast cancer.  GE terminated her assignment after she informed GE on a Monday morning that she planned to be absent the entire week and would need unspecified additional time off for “some appointments and tests” and “five times of radiation.”

Ms. Punt filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging failure to accommodate a disability.  In the Tenth Circuit, the plaintiff must make a prima facie showing that (1) she is disabled, (2) she is “otherwise qualified,” and (3) she requested a plausibly reasonable accommodation.  The burden of production then shifts to the employer to present evidence either (1) conclusively rebutting one or more elements of the prima facie case, or (2) establishing one of the affirmative defenses, such as undue hardship.  The Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for GE, concluding as a matter of law

ADA Tip: Remember To Include GINA Safe Harbor Language When Requesting Medical Information For Purposes Of Evaluating An Accommodation Request

Although employers are generally prohibited from obtaining medical information about their employees, they are permitted to do so in certain circumstances, including when such information is necessary to evaluate a job applicant’s or employee’s request for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

When obtaining medical information as part of the ADA interactive process, however, employers must keep in mind the provisions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).  Specifically, GINA protects applicants and employees from discrimination on the basis of genetic information and prohibits covered employers from using genetic information when making decisions about employment.  Accordingly, GINA generally restricts employers from requesting genetic information, unless one of six narrow exceptions applies.

Importantly, intent is not a required element for a GINA violation.  That is, an employer can be found in violation of GINA if the employer obtains genetic information despite not requesting or having any intent to receive such information.

Fortunately, “safe harbor” language can be used to protect an employer against an inadvertent GINA violation.  The following language should be included in any communications in which medical information is requested:

Note:  The information we are seeking relates only to any condition you may have that affects your ability to perform your essential job functions.  Please note that the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) prohibits employers and other entities covered by GINA Title II from requesting or requiring genetic information of an individual or family member of the individual, except as specifically allowed

The attorneys of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner make this site available to you only for the educational purposes of imparting general information and a general understanding of the law. This site does not offer specific legal advice. Your use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Bryan Cave LLP or any of its attorneys. Do not use this site as a substitute for specific legal advice from a licensed attorney. Much of the information on this site is based upon preliminary discussions in the absence of definitive advice or policy statements and therefore may change as soon as more definitive advice is available. Please review our full disclaimer.