Blog & News

Back to Posts

HR Edge | Is Reassignment a Reasonable Accommodation?

Posted on February 21, 2022

A federal court in Massachusetts recently ruled in favor of an employer who reassigned an employee to another position to accommodate the employee’s disability.  The court found that the transfer did not constitute an adverse employment action in part because the employee’s desired accommodation would result in a violation of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The claim arose when a technician for a telecommunications company sought reassignment from a night shift to a day shift as an accommodation for his disability.  The employer refused, as the reassignment would violate another employee’s contractual rights under the CBA.  Instead, the employer accommodated the employee by transferring him to a daytime customer representative role.

The customer service role was less desirable because it was fewer hours with no opportunity for overtime.  It was also at a lower pay grade, but under the CBA the employee’s hourly rate would remain unaffected for three years, after which it would gradually decrease.  The employee viewed the transfer as a demotion, refused to report to work and ultimately was terminated.

The employee alleged that:

  1. The transfer and termination were adverse employment actions;
  2. The transfer and termination were in retaliation for his exercise of a protected right, i.e., his request for an accommodation;
  3. The employer’s stated reason for the transfer, compliance with the CBA, was pretextual; and
  4. The employee is entitled to damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress for the employer’s actions.

The court first looked at whether the transfer was an adverse employment action rather that a reasonable accommodation.  The employee’s requested accommodation was to work as a technician on the day shift.  Following substantial precedent, the court found that even if the transfer was a demotion, it was a reasonable accommodation.

The court then assumed for the sake of argument that the transfer and termination were adverse employment actions.  It focused on the question of whether the employer’s actions were unlawful retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law.  The court determined that the employee had offered no evidence that the stated reasons for the transfer and the termination were a pretext.

The employer provided several reasons to support its position that the reassignment and subsequent termination were justified.  First, the company had for several years experienced staffing issues that required shuffling of technicians among the three available shifts.  Second, a transfer to the day shift as a technician would have resulted in reassignment of another employee in violation of that employee’s rights under the CBA. Third, the employer issued multiple warnings that the employee would be fired for failure to report to work.

Finally, the court dispensed with the employee’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.  While the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) provides benefits for emotional disabilities when events at work are a contributing cause, numerous cases have established that the Act will not cover those arising from “bona fide personnel actions unless motivated by an intent to inflict emotional distress.”  The court found that the facts of this case are not sufficiently “extreme and outrageous” to support a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The decision stands as a reminder that employers with a unionized workforce should always refer to their CBA when making a reasonable accommodation.

AIM HR Solutions provides training on the ADA and its requirements.  For more information, follow this link or contact Kelly McInnis at 617-488-8321 or

Members with questions on other HR related immigration issues or other hotline matter may call the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277. Top of Form