The scenario: A group of male employees suffered from a condition that caused them to experience severe skin irritation after they shaved. The men worked in jobs that required them to wear respirators. This was a problem because their facial hair could interfere with the performance of the safety gear.
However, their employer provided an accommodation that allowed the workers to maintain closely cropped beards as long as they could pass a fit test that ensured the respirators sealed properly against their faces.
Nearly three years after approving the accommodation, the employer determined that the policy was contrary to the respirator regulation enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The accommodation was rescinded, and the male workers were told they’d have to start shaving or they’d be reassigned to light-duty work.
Legal challenge: The men sued for disability bias, pointing out that they’d been accommodated for years without incident, so there was no reason for the employer to withdraw the accommodation.
The employer said federal law mandated that the accommodation be rescinded and that the men regularly shave or accept the light-duty reassignment.
The ruling: The employer won. The court said the male staffers weren’t discriminated against.
The judge decided that the employer couldn’t be forced to provide an accommodation that was illegal under rules enforced by OSHA.
The skinny: While you’re obligated under the Americans with Disabilities Act to work with disabled crew members to find suitable accommodations, you aren’t required to OK deals that could put your employer in noncompliance with other federal laws.
Cite: Bey v. City of New York, U.S. Court of Appeals 2, No. 20-456, 6/9/21.
(From the July 16, 2021, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription right now, please click here.)