Temporary Receptionist’s Vague Statements About The Need for Time Off Did Not Constitute Request for Reasonable Accommodation
In the recent case of Punt v. Kelly Services (July 6, 2017), the Tenth Circuit offered valuable guidance about an employer’s duty to accommodate temporary employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
The plaintiff in Punt was temporarily assigned by Kelly Services staffing agency to work as a front desk receptionist for GE Controls Solutions. Soon after starting the assignment, she was diagnosed with cancer and informed Kelly Services that she would need to take indefinite periods of time off for medical tests, appointments and treatments. Based upon plaintiff’s unscheduled, intermittent absences during her short tenure, GE decided that she could not perform the essential functions of the receptionist job, which explicitly required being “’physically present at the lobby/reception desk during business hours,” and it terminated her assignment.
Affirming the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Kelly Staffing and GE, the Tenth Circuit held that the plaintiff’s request for indefinite time off was not a reasonable request for accommodation under the ADA, as a matter of law. The Court found that as a temporary receptionist, plaintiff’s physical presence at the workplace was the most essential function of her position, and a request to be relieved of an essential job function was not reasonable or plausible. Furthermore, the plaintiff provided no information to Kelly or GE about the expected duration of her impairment and made only vague requests for more time off, so neither employer could determine whether she would be able to perform the essential functions of her job in the near future.
The Punt case provides employers with direction on the challenging issue of ADA accommodations. It confirms that an employer’s duty to accommodate leave requests under the ADA is not absolute; it is limited to requests that are specific and reasonable considering the disability and the position in question. More importantly, for businesses that use staffing companies to fill positions, Punt specifies that the ability to report to work consistently is a necessary part of the job for temporary employees. Therefore, employers may retain greater discretion in handling accommodation leave requests from temporary employees. Despite this guidance, employers are well advised to consult with counsel and human resources in assessing any request for accommodation under the ADA.