When Is A Disability Obvious?

In disability cases where an employee needs an accommodation, the employee is generally required to advise the employer of the extent of the disability and request an accommodation. Then, it is up to the employer to engage in an interactive process to determine what, if any, accommodations can be made.

But, in rare cases, if the disability is “obvious,” courts have said that the employer should have known that an accommodation was necessary and, therefore, should have started a dialogue with the employee.

In a case filed last week, a former JetBlue pilot is seeking $15M after he was arrested for interfering with a flight crew for running down the aisles and forcing the crew to subdue him, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He claims that only after his arrest did he learn that he suffered from a “complex partial brain seizure” due to a childhood head injury.

He is alleging that management should have known he had a medical problem because he (1) failed to show up for a required crew meeting; (2) didn’t answer his phone; (3) eventually showed up disheveled and disoriented; and (4) nearly failed a preflight check (but didn’t). How many of your employees could possibly fit this description?

Does this mean that you must start to ask each employee who misses a meeting if they need an accommodation under the ADA? Of course not. And I expect that JetBlue will prevail in this case, especially since prior to this incident there were no signs of any issues that they could reasonably have foreseen.

As I do in my presentations, I present the most extreme type of examples in an effort to remind you to pay attention to detail in the not so extreme cases that you see everyday.

Contact me to learn how ERS can customize affordable training options that meet your specific needs and train your staff on how best to avoid an employee claim.