Reasonable accommodations are at the heart of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
As a general rule, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees to enable them to work. Reassignment to a vacant position can be a possible reasonable accommodation for disabled workers. A recent case clarified this potential obligation.
Assume there are employees who can no longer perform the essential functions of their current jobs due to a disability. Next, assume the employer has one or more vacant positions for which the disabled employee is qualified.
In this case, can the employer provide that the disabled employee would not be automatically transferred to the vacant position, but rather must compete for it? Said differently, can the employer refuse to transfer the disabled employee if it believes that another — and non-disabled — employee is better qualified for the vacant position?
A court has held that the transfer must be automatic, even if there is another more qualified candidate — at least in most instances. The only exception occurs if the employer can establish specific facts unique to it that would create such an undue hardship that a mandatory transfer, not based on merit, would be unreasonable.
In other words, unless an employer can establish undue hardship (a difficult standard to meet), the ADA requires employers to reassign disabled workers to open positions for which they are qualified, even if the disabled worker is not the most qualified candidate.