Question

I injured my leg in a skiing accident. Although I can drive, it takes me more time than everyone else to walk long distances. In our office, all of the parking spaces closest to the building are reserved for clients. Employees are expected to park at the far end of the parking lot. I asked my employer if I could park in one of the client spaces, but he refused. I have a note from my doctor requesting that my employer allow me to park close to the building as a reasonable accommodation for my disability. My employer insists I am not disabled because I can get to the building and once there I am able to perform the essential functions of my job. According to my employer I should just allow more time to get to work. He claims that providing convenient parking for our clients is a higher priority. Is it legal for my employer to refuse to honor my doctor’s request?

Answer:

Your letter raises a number of issues. The first is whether the provision of parking is a reasonable accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and federal regulations provide that accessible reserved parking may be a form of reasonable accommodation. According to the EEOC, generally this means that if an employer provides parking spaces to all personnel, an accessible space must be provided to an employee with a disability unless it would impose an undue hardship. It is hard to tell based on the information you provided whether allowing you to use a closer parking space would greatly impact service to your employer’s customers, or if allowing you to use one of those spaces would be an undue hardship for your employer.

Another issue raised by your question is whether your employer has an obligation to accommodate your disability when the disability does not affect your ability to perform the essential functions of your job, but merely makes it more difficult to get to work. There are two reported decisions that discuss this issue.

In the first case, the employer had several parking lots. Each one had adequate accessible parking, but the one designated for employees was farther away from the building’s entrance than the one designated for customer use. A disabled employee asserted that the employer was required to provide her with a space in the lot closest to the building entrance. The court held that the Americans with Disabilities Act did not require that the employer provide her with a space closest to the building as long as it provided her an accessible space in one of its parking lots.

In the second case, the employer did not provide paid parking for its employees. A disabled employee requested that she be provided with paid parking to facilitate getting to and from work. Similar to your situation, the employee’s disability did not affect her ability to perform her job once she got to her office. The employer argued that paid parking was not a reasonable accommodation because it had no effect on the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of her job and that, as a matter of law, the case should be dismissed. The employee argued that the ability to get to her office was a job requirement and that the employer had an obligation to accommodate. The court refused to dismiss the case, holding that the provision of paid parking to a disabled employee may, under these circumstances, be a reasonable accommodation. The matter was returned to the trial court for a final determination.

In your case, I suggest that you and your employer continue to discuss how best to accommodate your disability in a manner that will permit your employer to adequately service its customers.
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