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Natural light, an ADA accommodation


Warning: failure to accommodate an employee suffering from seasonal affective disorder with natural light could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A federal appeals court in Chicago this week ruled that a teacher can sue a Wisconsin school district for failing to accommodate her by not providing her with a classroom with windows and natural light.

According to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, available here, the teacher suffers from a serious disability and natural light could have helped her return to work. A Business Insurance summary of the decision is available here.

This may be the first time a U.S. appeals court has ruled on an employer failing to provide natural light as an accommodation for seasonal affective disorder, one of the teacher's attorneys told Comp Time.

Justices hearing the case did not point to other rulings on the matter either.

In its decision, the appeals court pointed out that natural light is not widely known as therapy for seasonal affective disorder.

The school district in this case eventually became aware of it from statements made by health professionals treating the teacher. But the district didn't move her to an alternative classroom that was available.

Other employers will now want to be aware of light therapy.

A second interesting aspect of this case is that it is the second time in two weeks that a federal appeals court hearing an ADA-related case has found against employers for practices impacting disabled employees and their ability to return to work.

Comp Time posted about a ruling last week in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said an employee can sue Georgia-Pacific for violating the ADA because of the way the employer administered a physical capacity evaluation used to determine if the employee was capable of performing job functions.

That case can be read here and a Business Insurance story about it is available here.

As one attorney told Comp Time regarding the 9th Circuit's decision, courts are now being more aggressive in demanding that employees with disabilities be allowed to return to their jobs.

This week's ruling on natural light as an accommodation appears to bolster that theory.