Reasonable Accommodations: Duty To Communicate
Under Washington State employment laws concerning reasonable accommodations, what is the employee's "duty to communicate"? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).
DUTY TO PROVIDE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS (EMPLOYERS)
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) "gives employers an affirmative duty to accommodate an employee's disability." Mackey v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 12 Wn.App.2d 557, 586 (Div. 2 2020), review denied, 468 P.3d 616 (2020) (citing RCW 49.60.180(2); LaRose v. King County, 8 Wn.App.2d 90, 125, 437 P.3d 701 (2019)) (hyperlinks added).
DUTY TO COMMUNICATE (EMPLOYEES)
When an employer's accommodation is ineffective, the employee's corresponding duty to communicate mandates: "If the employee does not communicate to the employer that an accommodation was not effective, he or she cannot maintain a failure to accommodate claim." Id. at 587 (internal citation omitted) (emphasis and hyperlink added). The basis for this duty is that "an employer must be able to ascertain whether its efforts at accommodation have been effective, and therefore an employee has a duty to communicate to the employer whether the accommodation was effective." Id. at 586-87 (citing Frisino v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 160 Wn.App. 765, 783, 249 P.3d 1044 (2011)) (hyperlinks added).
EXAMPLE: MACKEY v. HOME DEPOT USA, INC.
In Mackey v. Home Depot USA, Inc., "Mackey began working at Home Depot … in 2006." Id. at 564. "During her employment, Mackey suffered from depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and degenerative disc disease. She asked for accommodations related to all these conditions." Id.
DUTY TO ACCOMMODATE (EMPLOYER): "Home Depot accommodated Mackey's degenerative disc disease by allowing [her] … to have other employees do any required lifting." Id. at 586.
THE FAILURE TO ACCOMMODATE CLAIM: "Home Depot [eventually] terminated Mackey's employment after an investigation determined that she had been violating company policies regarding discounts on customer orders." Id. at 563. "Mackey asserted claims for[, inter alia,] failure to reasonably accommodate her physical disability." Id. "Mackey argue[d] that [Home Depot's disability] … accommodation was unreasonable because it required her to seek out the help of other employees and tell them about her disability before completing the lifting tasks assigned to her." Id.
DUTY TO COMMUNICATE (EMPLOYEE): The employer defended by asserting, "Mackey failed to notify Home Depot that the [disability] accommodation it provided to her was insufficient or unreasonable." Id. at 586. The Court also noted: "Mackey admitted that she never complained to Home Depot that she did not have someone to lift for her or that the accommodation was not adequate." Id. at 587.
THE HOLDING: The Washington State Court of Appeals held, "[T]he trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on Mackey's failure to reasonably accommodate claim because Mackey never notified Home Depot that the accommodation it provided was ineffective or unreasonable." Mackey v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 12 Wn.App.2d 557, 564 (Div. 2 2020), review denied, 468 P.3d 616 (2020).
If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Employment Discrimination Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group; please see our DISCLAIMER.