Wacky Employee Claims: Reasonable Accommodations for Unreasonable Requests?
As an employment defense attorney, I often think I’ve heard it all: every conceivable employee complaint, late-to-work excuse, and “reasonable” accommodation request. Still, from time to time, I come across an employee claim that surprises even me.
Here are some recent ones:
Spa Sued Over Brazilian Wax Training: A woman hired at a spa as a “wax specialist” alleged her recent termination was discriminatory. As part of her training, her employer required her to receive a Brazilian wax – in front of her female colleagues. The employee refused and complained, and claims she was fired in retaliation.
Hair Color Discrimination: Earlier this year, the NYPD issued an anti-bias message alert warning sergeants and lieutenants about harassment or discrimination against red-haired officers. This alert went mostly unsupported by those who did not feel redheads were a particularly disadvantaged group. However, employers should note, to the extent hair color is associated with race, ethnicity or national origin, it could give rise to a claim for employment discrimination.
Fired for Irresistable Attraction?: A female employee sued for wrongful termination after her employer fired her based on his concerns that if she continued to work for him, he would have sex with her and it would ruin his marriage. The lower court ruled this did not violate the law. The employee was not fired because she was a woman, but because of her “irresistible attraction.” The Iowa Supreme Court recently confirmed the lower court decision.
Vegan’s Religious Accommodation Case to Proceed: A former hospital employee alleged she was fired for refusing to take a flu shot, which is derived from eggs, claiming such discharge violated her religious beliefs because she is a vegan. The court refused to dismiss the case, finding “it plausible that Plaintiff could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views.”
Disabled by Insomnia: A court recently denied an employee’s claim that her insomnia, which prevented her from sleeping more than four hours per night, was an ADA-protected condition. While insomnia may be a disability under the ADA if it substantially limits a major life activity (which includes sleeping), in this case the court found the employee was terminated because she failed to properly keep time sheets and was unable to “communicate accurately and truthfully.”
Can Height Be a Disability?: An Arizona Department of Agriculture worker recently filed a claim for disability discrimination claiming she was forced into a field work position in which she would not be able to drive vehicles because she was too short (4’10”). The Court held, in some contexts, her short stature could “substantially limit one or more major life activities” (i.e., rise to the level of a disability).
Time Off to Head-Bang: Though this one comes from overseas (Sweden), it is a good one. A 42-year old dishwasher, who claimed he was addicted to heavy metal, requested his employer reasonably accommodate time off to attend concerts and listen to music while working.
The bottom line is this: Employers should be prepared for anything. Handling employee complaints and accommodation requests is certainly not an easy job. But staying on top of the ever-changing employment laws and consulting employment counsel when needed will go far to minimize the risk of claims and litigation.