What is Reasonable Accommodation for Disabled Employees?

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who have a qualifying disability or medical condition. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are done that enables an employee with a disability to enjoy equal opportunities to work.”

What is Reasonable Accommodation for Disabled Employees?
Under the ADA, there is no set list of accommodations that are considered reasonable. This is because the law encourages both employees and employers to be creative when looking for a solution for an employee with a disability. Even so, the law requires that the accommodation must be both reasonable and effective and would allow the employee to continue performing their job duties with or without restrictions.

There are several categories of reasonable accommodation:

  • An employer may need to adjust the hiring process so that everyone, including people with disabilities, can apply and interview for the job opening.
  • Employers may also need to provide accommodation to help an employee perform the essential functions of their job by making changes to their workstation. For example, an employer may need to acquire a piece of assistive equipment or modifying a policy.
  • Employers must allow employees with disabilities to receive the same employment benefits and privileges that other employees might enjoy.

There are other kinds of accommodation an employer may be required to provide to make the work environment accommodating for employees with disabilities. These include:

  • job restructuring;
  • making a building or worksite accessible;
  • providing assistive devices or equipment;
  • modifying job schedules;
  • changing work policies;
  • granting of disability leave; and/or
  • reassigning of the job portfolio.

Determining if Accommodation is Reasonable

Determining if accommodation is reasonable is quite challenging since what is “reasonable” in one case might not be “reasonable” in another. However, there are a few essential principles to keep in mind when trying to determine if the given accommodation is adequate:

  • The term reasonable is not the same as perfect. The accommodation the employer provides does not have to be ideal.
  • Reasonable accommodation does not mean giving the specific accommodation that disabled employee requests. Employers have the right to reject accommodation requests and suggest another option that is equally effective.
  • The ADA stipulates that qualifying employers must provide a reasonable accommodation unless providing that accommodation would cause any undue hardship.

Requesting for Reasonable Accommodation

There is no specific time or procedure for asking for reasonable accommodation. Employees may request it verbally, in writing, or have someone request it on their behalf. Although writing an accommodation request is the most ideal given form.

Employees may have to fill out some forms from their employer as part of the process. ADA accommodation request should tell the employer more about the nature of the disability, desired accommodation, and why they need that accommodation. Accommodation request needs to be made well in advance to reduce the likelihood of the employer rejecting it. Also, if the disability or need for reasonable accommodation is not apparent, the employer may request for medical documentation to ascertain the actual state of the employee’s disability.

How Soon Should Your Employer Respond to Your Request

While there is no legally obligated timeline for an employer to respond to a request, it is expected of them to respond quickly. Most of the time, employers may initiate an interactive process to learn more about the accommodation request and how they can help to achieve it. On the other hand, the failure of an employer to initiate an interactive process or respond to an application could result in liability on their part.

What Can You Do If Your Employer Refuses to Provide an Accommodation?

If an employer refuses to provide employees with reasonable accommodation, there are two options to adopt when proceeding with the issue:

  • Continuing the dialogue to determine whether both parties can agree on an accommodation that might not be perfect, but would work for both the employee and employer. The ADA does not require an employer to provide a specific accommodation that is requested, so a compromise may be the best solution.
  • Filing a formal complaint about disability discrimination with the HR Office or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This option should be the last resort because of the risk associated with filing a formal complaint against an employer. It is essential that employees discuss their situation with an employment attorney before proceeding with this option.
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