Providing Employee With Crohn’s Disease A Flexible Bathroom Break Schedule: “Time Theft” Or Reasonable Accommodation?

Being moved closer to a bathroom doesn’t sound like it’s too burdensome an accommodation to an employee suffering from Crohn’s Disease – a condition included in the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) Amendments of 2008 as a disability.

But an employee at an Amazon call center alleges in a new ADA lawsuit that the strict corporate bathroom policy – which he alleges is “draconian,” “unyielding” and “inhuman” – did not yield to his requests for an accommodation such as “mov[ing] his work station closer to the bathroom, a one- to two-minute walk away; nor did it offer options for unscheduled or emergency bathroom breaks or any other changes in work structure to accommodate his disability, according to the complaint.”

Indeed, the employee claims that a company HR officer told him “that if the company accommodated his bathroom needs, it would have to do it for everyone”- which is not an ADA compliant policy.

The ADA provides that an employer has impermissibly discriminated against an employee claiming a disability where the employer has not made “reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability.” An employer to whom an employee raises the issue of a disability and requests a reasonable accommodation must engage in meaningful discussions with the employee as to the proposed accommodation. The EEOC has repeatedly stated that an employer has an “affirmative duty” to engage in this interactive process with the employee.

The employee in this new case alleged that “Episodes of symptoms of Crohn’s disease can occur without warning and can require urgent response, including the immediate need for bathroom facilities.” He claims that he was accused of taking “too much personal time” and that his bathroom use amounted to “time theft,” which he alleges was the reason for his firing.

Amazon has not yet responded to the complaint and so these are simply allegations.

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]