As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found, an employee must engage in the reasonable accommodation process and must provide medical documentation that actually supports his reasonable accommodation request.
In Tchankpa v. Ascena Retail Group, Inc., an employee with a shoulder injury demanded to work from home. The employer sought medical documentation, which the employee took ten months to provide. And when it was finally received, it stated that the employee could perform his job with intermittent breaks and a lifting restriction, with no mention of working from home. His request was denied, the employee resigned, and then sued the company, alleging a failure to provide reasonable accommodations.
Observing that “the disabled employee’s requested accommodation does not bind his employer,” the Sixth Circuit stated that “an employee’s failure to provide requested medical documentation supporting an accommodation precludes a failure to accommodate claim.” It also reiterated that an employee must show that his requested accommodation is medically necessary when requested to do so by his employer. In short, the Sixth Circuit found that the employee failed to show that working from home related to his disability, failed to provide satisfactory documentation to support his requested accommodation, and resigned before the parties could agree on an accommodation, which constituted a failure to participate in the interactive process.
This case reiterates a number of important principles. First, the employee has a responsibility to engage in the interactive process. Second, the employee’s requested accommodation must relate to his disability. Next, the employer is entitled to medical documentation to support an accommodation for a non-obvious disability. And finally, the employer is not bound to the employee’s requested accommodation. As we have previously discussed, the employer may choose the accommodation, and it need not be the best or most effective one, as long as it enables the employee to perform his essential job functions.