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ADA can override workplace policies, EEOC reminds employers

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The Library Hotel, based in Manhattan, has settled a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge alleging it denied a worker the accommodation of a stool or chair in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The hotel will pay $42,000 — about $6,426 in lost wages and benefits and about $35,574 in damages — to a former front desk employee, according to the three-year consent decree. It will also inform employees of their workplace rights through posters and the provision of an accommodation policy and provide training to all employees on the ADA’s requirements. 

According to the complaint, filed in September, a front desk agent began working for the hotel in April 2022. In December, the employee requested the use of a chair or stool to accommodate a hypermobility condition that resulted in a bone spur and a knee injury. An HR consultant who received the request emailed the worker’s supervisors that while the hotel “appreciate[s] the position she is in and completely understand[s] the medical need … company policy is and continues to be that our FDA [front desk agents] are not seated when working with a guest.”

The accommodation was not provided and the worker resigned in March 2023, after no longer being able to endure the disability-related pain and impairment associated with standing during shifts, the complaint said. 

Absent undue hardship, modifying a workplace policy is a reasonable accommodation expected under the ADA, EEOC has explained in guidance. The agency provides the example of allowing a worker with insulin-dependent diabetes to eat or drink at her workstation if needed, even if employees are otherwise prohibited from doing so.

“This case should serve as a stern warning to employers,” Jeffrey Burstein, EEOC regional attorney, said in an EEOC news release on the settlement. “A company’s internal policy does not trump a company’s obligations under the ADA.”

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