As an avid practitioner of yoga (much to my surprise – I always assumed I was too type A for inner focus and meditation), I was highly entertained by a recent case in which an employee requested to attend a yoga class as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Now, in my 25 years of practice as an employment attorney, I have seen many interesting requests for accommodation, but this was a new one for me.
In Flynn v. McCabe & Mack LLP, an employee developed neuropathy (numbness, tingling, weakness and/or lack of sensation) in her arms, legs and feet following her (successful) treatment for cancer, although admittedly the condition did not prevent her from doing her work. The employee was treated by doctors and received physical therapy for her neuropathy, and her doctors encouraged her to stay active. The employee requested a schedule change at work so that she could attend a 4:30 p.m. yoga class with a particular instructor at a nearby gym. Her employer denied the request. After her termination for bad-mouthing her supervisor, the employee sued, claiming, among other things, that she was denied a reasonable accommodation in violation of the ADA.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to enable a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of her job. The court found that the employee’s request to attend a yoga class, however, was not a reasonable accommodation for several reasons.
First, the yoga class would not help the employee perform the essential functions of her job. The employee admitted that the neuropathy did not prevent her from performing those functions, so obviously treatment of the neuropathy by yoga would have no impact on her ability to perform those essential functions.
Next, the employee’s doctors only recommended that she be active generally – they didn’t specify that she needed to take this particular yoga class in order to address her disability. In fact, as the court noted, the employee could have attended other classes or other gyms, or engaged in other forms of exercise. In fact, the employee’s desire to take this specific class with this specific instructor was a “personal preference … and the ADA imposes no obligation on employers to accommodate personal preferences.” The employee admitted that she didn’t do any yoga on the weekends. (So really, she thought she should be able to miss work to do yoga, but not crowd her free time with it?)
So I was astounded that the employee literally made a federal case out of whether she was entitled under the ADA to attend the yoga class of her choosing. What an unreasonable request for reasonable accommodation! In fact, I’m so aggravated by this request that i’m feeling the need for a little calming yoga. Namaste.