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Accommodation of a disability

Discrimination, diabetes, and how long does an employer have to accommodate the employee’s disability?

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) found against an employee who suffered severe side affects from diabetes at work.  The MCAD ruled that the employer was justified in terminating the employee for safety reasons.  MCAD v. Affiliated Professional Services, (9/16/13).

There is more to the story than this headline.  The MCAD acknowledged that diabetes meets the legal definition of a handicap because it has side effects or complications that can substantially limit major life activities.  An employer is required to work with such an employee to coordinate a reasonable accommodation that will allow the employee to stay on the job.  

The employer successfully argued that the employee could not do her job even with the multiple reasonable accommodations it offered. For two years, they worked around her excessive absenteeism and tardiness.  They allowed the employee to change her job so she did not have to stay continually at the front desk. They offered her time off under the FMLA, which she declined.

Ultimately, the employee’s inability to control her diabetes presented safety risks that the employer could not ignore.  The employee experienced on the job drowsiness, dizziness, and loss of consciousness.  Her inability to moniotor and control her diabetes, through no fault of her own, led to the serious disruption of operations.  Co-workers were concerned because they reluctantly had to take responsibility for monitoring and evaluating the employee’s condition because she was unable to do so herself. The co-workers were not medically qualified to manage the employee’s health.

As unfortunate as this employee’s condition was, the MCAD ruled that the employer proved that no further accommodation would work.  The accommodations in place created an undue burden on the employer, which is an affirmative defense to a claim for disability discrimination.  The MCAD found it significant that there was no evidence of hostility toward the employee because of her disability.


Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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