What is a Reasonable Accommodation for a Diabetic?

This post is a great example of a real life situation that business owners and human resource professionals deal with daily. It highlights the complexity of many employment laws and serves as a reminder that it is always a good idea to check with competent counsel before taking questionable action against employees. And – time for a plug – Austin Legal’s Concierge Legal Services makes checking with counsel an affordable no-brainer.

A gas service technician who responds to customer requests to repair appliances and gas leaks submitted a doctor’s letter stating that his diabetes and related conditions required that he avoid extreme heat. The doctor suggested that he work close to home so he could access his insulin, which was refrigerated there, and that he use an air-conditioned vehicle to help keep his insulin cold, since he took it with every meal.

The employer denied his request. The company determined it would be unreasonable to adjust the workload to be near his home because customers were located throughout a region and the company could not predict where the work would be each day.

Instead, the company suggested that he carry a cool pack designed for his needs or a cooler to keep his medication cool while he worked. It also suggested that the employee take advantage of the company’s existing policy allowing “breaks at restaurants or other establishments to cool off on hot days.” The employee rebuked the adequacy of this accommodation because unlike non-diabetic employees, he could not wait as long to take breaks.

A federal court in Michigan ruled that the employer acted rightly when denying the request to work close to home. However, the court sided with the employee when holding that the employer’s proffered accommodations may not be reasonable. Specifically, the court did not like the “take breaks in restaurants” solution or the “go buy yourself a cooler” solution. Instead, the court hinted that a reasonable accommodation may have been if the employer offered to purchase an appropriate cooler.

Labor and employment laws are hard to follow and expensive when followed incorrectly. Get help – even if just a rubber stamp confirming that you are doing things right – before costly mistakes are made.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Austin Legal’s Concierge Legal Services program is relied upon by companies to remain compliant and competitive. If you have employees, you need Concierge Legal Services. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Austin@LaborEmploymentOSHA.com.