HCRC Settles Reasonable Accommodation Claim with County of Maui

The importance of understanding and complying with an employer’s reasonable accommodation obligations under disability law is underscored by a recent case settlement involving the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and the County of Maui.  The case involved a long-time employee of the County of Maui who claimed that she was denied a reasonable accommodation after her physician requested the elimination or reassignment of a job function.  While the requested accommodation was initially granted to the employee, it was eventually denied.  The employee filed a charge of discrimination with the HCRC, which made a finding of reasonable cause before settling the matter during the conciliation process.
The no-fault settlement requires the County of Maui to revise and submit its non-discrimination policy for HCRC review, to conduct employee training with a specific focus on disability discrimination, and to provide monetary relief to the complainant.
In settling the matter, the HCRC emphasized that Hawaii law allows an employee with a disability to request a reasonable accommodation, which is an adjustment or change needed to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.  If a request for accommodation has been made, the employer must initiate an interactive process with the employee to determine what, if any, accommodation can be provided.  The parties should identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability that impact job performance, whether an adjustment or change is needed to allow the employee with a disability to perform the essential job functions, and if any alternative accommodations may be effective in meeting the employee’s needs.
In considering the provision of a reasonable accommodation, employers should note that this legal requirement is not intended to create preferential treatment, but instead to allow an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the position.  The employee with a disability is not entitled to his/her preferred accommodation if the employer has identified an alternative reasonable accommodation that also effectively allows the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.  Further, an employer may deny a proposed accommodation by showing that it would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.