Nuts and Bolts and ADA

October 29, 2015


iStock_000017645084_IllustrationFrankenstein works for All Hallows Reconstruction, Inc., a company that produces nuts, bolts, and other metal products.   Frankenstein works on the production line operating a magnetic calibration unit that controls the quality of production.   This requires frequent physical twists and turns by Frank to position the machine and the products appropriately.

Recently Frankenstein was in an auto accident that seriously injured his neck.  After some FMLA leave, Frankenstein returned to work with metal bolts to stabilize his neck.  The condition makes it painful for Frank to turn or tilt his head.  The bolts also interfere with the functionality of the calibration unit and make it impossible for Frank to perform his job duties.

On Frank’s first day back his supervisor Weer Wolf immediately notices the calibration machine going haywire and sees Frank’s facial grimaces, which to Wolf seem to be smiles. Wolf yells, “You big ghoul!  What’s so funny? Those bolts in your neck must be making you crazy!  I can’t have you in the workplace if you are going to be insubordinate and can’t do your job. And besides, your appearance is scaring the other workers!”

Frank breaks into tears and heads to your office, telling you his problems from his injuries, describing his confrontation with Weer Wolf, and asking you to help him do his job.

What do you need to do?– Understand that Frank’s plea for help probably constitutes a request for an ADA accommodation.

– Determine whether Frank has a disability.  Ask about the expected duration and severity of his neck limitations, and whether or how they impact his ability to perform the essential function(s) of his position.

– And what about those bolts?  If they are permanent equipment for Frank, do they create a disability?  What major life activity might they affect? Clearly, they impact his job performance because of the magnetism, but that alone might not be enough to provide Frank with ADA protection after the neck stiffness clears up.

– Talk with Frank about possible accommodations.  Does he have any ideas?  It may take more than one accommodation, one for the neck limitations and one for the interference of the neck bolts with the calibration unit.

— Request a medical examination (if it is business-related and consistent with business necessity) to determine the extent of Frank’s limitations and possible accommodations.

– This might be a tough one!  Call the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for help in identifying reasonable accommodations.  JAN is a leading free resource for accommodation assistance for employers and employees.  They have dealt with more ADA accommodation situations than there are trick-or-treaters out on a Halloween night!  (Ask them about the time clown shoes were the appropriate reasonable accommodation!)  (800) 526-7234.

– Consider disciplining Weer Wolf for inappropriate conduct as a supervisor.  He was clearly insensitive to Frank’s performance problems and physical difficulties.