Staffing Management

An Employer Need Not Read Minds About Reasonable Accommodations

By Jon Hyman

Apr. 4, 2016

The ADA’s interactive process is a two-way street. For an employee to present a valid ADA claim, the employee must actively participate in the reasonable-accommodation discussion. The employee cannot simply provide the employer a doctor’s excuse and then turn a deaf ear to the employer’s offers to accommodate.

Case in point? Agee v. Mercedes-Benz U.S. Int’l. (11th Cir. 3/30/16).

Kimberly Agee worked for as a team member in a Mercedes assembly plant. The employer spent the better part of two years accommodating her disabilities and other medical conditions — first breast cancer, and then residual pain following cancer surgery. Its accommodations included transferring her to a less physical position and allowing lifting restrictions. When she found out she was pregnant, it also accommodated her by temporarily exempting her from mandatory overtime. When the employer refused to make her 40-hour work week a permanent accommodation, and she simply stopped coming to work. After her termination for unexcused absences, Agee sued.

The court concluded that the employer had not violated the ADA by refusing to accommodate her demand for a permanent exemption from mandatory overtime (which the court concluded was an essential function of her job).

With respect to the indefinite 40-hour per week restriction, Defendant attempted to engage Plaintiff in an expanded discussion to see if some other type of restriction would serve the same health related purpose without imposing upon an essential function of her job. Yet Plaintiff continued to refuse FMLA leave or engage in an interactive process with Defendant. Liability simply cannot arise under the ADA when an employer does not obstruct an informal interactive process; makes reasonable efforts to communicate with the employee and provide accommodations based on the information it possesses; and the employee’s actions cause a breakdown in the interactive process.

Employers, you need not read minds. If an employee does not want to engage, the employee likely has made the choice to disqualify him or herself from employment.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at

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