Magic Words Are Not Needed for An ADA Request for Reasonable Accommodation, But Sufficient Words Are

Kollman & Saucier
Kollman & Saucier

While courts have said repeatedly about the ADA that an employee need not use magic words or even the phrase “reasonable accommodation” when making such a request, the case of Powley v. Rail Crew Xpress, LLC, No. 21-1131 (8th Cir. Feb. 15, 2022), is a good reminder that the ADA does require employees to provide sufficient information to an employer that a health issue could be a disability interfering with the ability to work and necessitating a reasonable accommodation.

Ms. Powell worked as a driver for Rail Crew Xpress and was suffering from back pain that interfered with her ability to work.  She provided Rail Crew with medical documentation and received reasonable accommodations, including limited work hours.  She was later transferred to a dispatcher position and complained about headaches from the noise in the office and requested a return to her former driving position.  She also continued to submit medical notes limiting her work hours.

The company refused to return her to the driving position and Ms. Powell resigned thereafter.  She filed suit against the company for failing to accommodate her disabilities when it refused to transfer her back to the driver position.

The Eighth Circuit rejected Ms. Powell’s claim, noting that she had requested and received many accommodations for her back pain and therefore, was very aware of the process for requesting and obtaining reasonable accommodations.  She failed to submit a doctor’s note or otherwise indicate that her request to return to a driving position was connected to her known disability of back pain.

Even though she complained about the noise in the office giving her headaches, she did not identify the headaches as migraines, did not inform her employer that the headaches or migraines interfered with her ability to work, and did not suggest that her request was based on medical needs as she had properly and previously done with respect to her back condition.

Employees need not use magic words but do remain obligated to provide enough information so that an employer understands that they have or may have a disability and need an accommodation.

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