Employee’s Failure to Comply with Handbook Policy Does Not Necessarily Halt ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Claim
The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia determined last month in Martin v. Yokohama Tire Corp. that an employee provided sufficient notice of both his disability and his need for an accommodation under the ADA despite his failure to follow the company’s policy for requesting an accommodation.
Harvey Martin, Jr. was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008. He alleged that his former employer refused to allow him time off to attend medical appointments when he was seriously ill. Despite the fact that Martin requested medical leave on several occasions, he failed to complete the accommodation form as required by the company’s handbook. On this basis, Yokohama argued that Martin’s failure to request an accommodation form from Human Resources, as required in the handbook was tantamount to no request at all. Yokohama further argued that it did accommodate Martin’s medical appointments by unilaterally changing his shift to a weekend shift.
The Court rejected both of Yokohama’s arguments and allowed Martin’s failure to accommodate claim to proceed. The Court held that there was sufficient evidence to support Martin’s claim that despite his failure to follow the guidelines in the employee handbook, Yokohama was aware of Martin’s disability. The Court noted that Martin had asked to use medical leave on a short-term basis, but his request was denied when his supervisor told him to report to work despite being ill. The Court also noted that the company’s unilateral imposition of a shift change might have actually made it more difficult for Martin to manage his diabetes, based on plaintiff’s claim that the shift change not only disturbed his medication regulation, but also his eating and sleeping habits. .
This ruling underscores that an employer must be careful not to elevate form over substance and should not rely on an employee to comply with internal policies when the employee has put the employer on actual notice of his or her disability or need for an accommodation before. This case also highlights how important it is for employers to engage in the interactive process once an employee requests an accommodation.