Since the ADA’s passage in 1990, employers have been required to “reasonably accommodate” workers who have “disabilities” of the mind or body. So long as doing so does not cause the employer to suffer a “undue hardship,” an employer must provide an employee with what he or she needs to perform the “essential functions” of his or her job. Employees with disabilities who can perform the essential functions of their jobs, with or without reasonable accommodations, are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from being terminated or facing other negative consequences because of their inability to do so.
Discrimination in the workplace because of a person’s disability is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disabled employees’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act call for employers to make reasonable adjustments so that they can perform their jobs.
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What Are Reasonable Accommodations?
A reasonable accommodation is a change or addition to the work environment that makes it possible for a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of their position. An employee’s workspace may need to be widened to accommodate a wheelchair, or the lighting may need to be adjusted. It could be something technological, such as software that responds to voice commands. Changing the rules of the workplace, such as removing uniform requirements or allowing for more flexible work schedules, can be a part of making accommodations.
For prospective employees, employers must also make reasonable accommodations so that they can apply for the position. An applicant who has carpal tunnel syndrome might need voice-activated software to take a keyboarding test; an applicant who is deaf might need a sign language interpreter for an interview; an applicant who is visually impaired might need an alternative format (such as Braille or audio) for a written test, or an applicant who uses a wheelchair might need an interview room that is accessible for them.
There are two responsibilities here: the first is during the application process, and the second is during the employment relationship. Even if an employer believes it would not be able to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee to actually perform the job, the employer must still make reasonable accommodations for an applicant to be able to apply for the position.
To provide a person with the necessary conditions, equipment, and surroundings, we use the term “reasonable accommodation.” A reasonable accommodation is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as:
As mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers with 15 or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities unless it would cause undue hardship. ” Providing a person with a disability with equal employment opportunities means making reasonable accommodations to their work environment or job duties. Three types of reasonable accommodations are available to people with disabilities:
- Changes to a job application process;
- Changes to the work environment, or to the way a job is usually done;
- Changes that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (such as access to training).”
Qualified Person With a Disability
You are entitled to accommodation only if you are qualified for the job. You are qualified only if both of the following are true:
- You meet all of the requirements for your position. For example, you must have the necessary education, licensing, language skills, job skills, and experience for the job. If you are applying for a promotion to a position that requires fluency in Spanish or an architecture license, for example, you must have these qualifications. Otherwise, your employer has no obligation to accommodate your disability.
- You must be able to perform the job’s essential functions, with or without accommodation. Essential functions are those tasks someone holding the position must absolutely be able to do, as opposed to unrelated or unimportant tasks. For example, carrying heavy containers of water would be an essential function for someone whose job is to deliver the containers to businesses. Still, it would not be an essential function for someone who does office work and occasionally replaces the container on the office water cooler. Learn more about essential functions. It’s fine if you need an accommodation to perform an essential function, as long as you can do it with the accommodation.
What are “essential functions?”
In order to be qualified for a position, an applicant or employee must be able to perform essential job functions. Essential functions are job duties that are fundamental to the position, and they are the reason the job exists. Some of the factors for determining essential functions of a job include:
- Whether the position exists specifically to perform these essential functions.
- The number of other employees who are available to perform the same job duties.
- The expertise or skills required to perform the essential functions.
What are the obligations of Employers?
What types of employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers who have 15 or more employees are usually required to provide reasonable accommodations. Some state and local laws may require that employers with fewer employees provide reasonable accommodations.
Modifications to the physical layout of your workspace, alterations to your job duties, waivers of standard workplace policies and procedures, and other measures are all examples of accommodations. People in wheelchairs may require lowered desks or parking spaces that are close enough for wheelchairs, as well as restrooms that are wide enough for wheelchairs. Working from home or cutting back on your hours when you’re not feeling well may be a necessity if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Carpal tunnel syndrome may necessitate voice-activated software and an ergonomic mouse and desk arrangement. Noise-cancelling headphones and clear deadlines from your supervisor may be necessary if you have attention deficit disorder.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to coping with disabilities. The same back surgery can have varying results in terms of speed of recovery and length of time off work for different people. Your abilities, health, and occupation will all play a role in determining which type of accommodation is best for you.
Reasonable accommodations come in many forms.
In order to determine what is reasonable, an employer must look at the request made by the applicant or employee with a disability. Whether or not an accommodation is reasonable will vary according to the position the employee holds, the way their disability affects their ability to do their job, and the environment that they work in.
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Reasonable Accommodation Tips
Here are some tips for getting the reasonable accommodation process right:
- Reasonable accommodations must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
- The employer is allowed to define the essential functions of the job. This is one thing you do have control over, and it is why your job descriptions are very important when it comes to ADA compliance and reasonable accommodation determination. Determining the essential functions is one of the first steps in the process because the accommodation will need to ensure that these functions can be performed.
- Reasonable accommodation requires an interactive process. “That’s just a fancy label, really, for talking to your employee,” Sandberg told us. It’s not, however, an excuse to get unnecessary details about the condition in question. Stick to information about how the employee is having difficulties doing the job and how the employer could improve the situation.
What types of accommodations are generally considered reasonable?
Here are some examples of things employers might consider when looking at reasonable accommodation options:
- Changes to the job application process. “Remember, your obligation to disabled individuals and to provide reasonable accommodation doesn’t just start when someone becomes your employee. That obligation exists even at the application phase.” Sandberg advised.
- Modifications to the work environment – including how a job is performed, in some cases.
- Changes so that a disabled employee can enjoy equal benefits and privileges (e.g. ability to access lunch area). Additionally, in some jurisdictions, courts have found that the change does not necessarily have to relate to essential job functions, but instead to something that makes it easier to do the job, such as providing a parking space close to the entrance of the building.
What are some examples of reasonable accommodation?
Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations that employers have utilized. Bear in mind, since the reasonable accommodation process is individualized, this is only meant to be a thought-starter, not a comprehensive list:
Take a look at the essential functions (define them if you haven’t already) and determine whether any can be moved to another employee or transferred if it is not an undue hardship. (However, doing so is NOT a requirement for employers. Some employers opt for this option, depending on the circumstances, as it may be acceptable for some jobs.)
Modified workplace policies
Modified workplace policies such as the time the workday starts and ends.
Reassignment to a vacant position
This option does not include creating a position that doesn’t exist, but if there is already an open position that the disabled employee is able to do, you could consider reassigning them to that role.
Part-time or modified work schedules
Leave of known duration, even if all other leave is exhausted. This must be within reason and managed properly.
Provide Alternative Formats
A supervisor gives feedback in writing, rather than verbally, for an employee who communicates better through written materials.
An employer changes its practice of only offering parking to upper management to allow an employee who is unable to walk long distances access to a reserved parking spot close to the building.
An employer reasonably changes their office’s “no animals” policy in order to welcome an employee’s service animal.
An employer purchases software that magnifies the computer screen to allow an employee with low vision to enter and read the information on the computer correctly.
Reorganization of the Job
The employer provides a checklist to ensure task completion for an employee who has an intellectual disability.
Reassignment is a reasonable accommodation in some situations. An employer may reassign an employee to an open position if the employee can no longer perform the essential functions of their current job. The employer does not have to create a new position, no other employees need be transferred or terminated in order to make a position vacant for reassignment, and the individual with a disability should be qualified for the new position.
How to Request a Reasonable Accommodation
A reasonable accommodation must first be requested by the applicant or employee. It is not necessary for the employer to foresee this requirement. Because the goal of the ADA was to eliminate paternalism and biases about what people with disabilities could and couldn’t accomplish, this makes sense An employee’s request for assistance is required rather than the employer making assumptions about the employee’s disability and potential accommodations.
The request for an accommodation can be made orally or in writing, as long as the person making the request does not use any specific language. No mention of the ADA or the phrase “reasonable accommodations” is required. In order to safeguard those who may be unaware of their legal rights, this rule was enacted.
It’s a good idea to put your request in writing, even if it isn’t required by law. To get the employer’s attention, you must make a reasonable accommodation request. You can be sure that your employer will take your request seriously and have all the information they need to look into possible accommodations if you submit a written request. It will also serve as evidence in the event of a future dispute, should you ever need it.
What to Include in Your Reasonable Accommodation Letter
In your reasonable accommodation letter, you should provide all the information your employer will need to begin the accommodation process, including what your disability is, how it affects you, which aspects of your job might require modification and proposed accommodations.
Here’s a checklist of facts to include:
Your name and position
Even if you are writing to some who knows you well—such as your immediate supervisor—your letter may have to go up the management chain, to the HR department, or to other people who aren’t familiar with your situation.
This may prove important later if you and your employer dispute whether and when you requested accommodation.
Information about your disability
Identify your disability and briefly describe how it affects your ability to do the job.
A request for accommodation
Don’t forget the point of the letter: to ask for a reasonable accommodation.
If you know what you need, don’t be afraid to come right out and say it. If there are a variety of options, briefly describe them.
You may want to attach a letter from your doctor, briefly describing your condition and limitations. Or, you could offer to provide such documentation on request.
Reasonable Accommodation Process
In accordance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Title I of the ADA, each request for a reasonable accommodation must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In this section, we’ll go over the steps involved in making a reasonable accommodation. In order to get an employer to make a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee, the employee must first tell them about their disability. In order for an effective solution to be reached, the process must be interactive, involving both the person with a disability and the employer.
The employer must participate in the interactive process, but it does not have to do anything that is unduly burdensome. Undue hardship, on the other hand, has a very high bar to clear. Employers are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make an effort to provide a reasonable alternative even if the accommodation requested by the individual is too onerous. However, they are not required to make an accommodation that causes a disruption in business, endangers anyone directly, or requires coworkers to work harder, longer, or more frequently than usual.
In determining whether a proposed accommodation is an undue hardship, cost is also a factor. The accommodation will not be considered a hardship as quickly as many people think because of this one factor, however.
When determining whether or not there is sufficient notice to begin the interactive process, employers must act reasonably. Never assume that an employee is unable to perform his or her job. A company can’t ignore verbal, visual, or other cues when enforcing policies requiring written notice of accommodation needs. Train supervisors to report any observations or information that might lead to the need to start the process on their own, even if no one asked them to do so. The ADA mandates that an employer must “:” provide an accommodation to a worker who has a disability if they are aware of it.
- Direct communication between the employer and employee to explore in good faith the possible accommodations
- Consideration of the employee’s request
- Offering accommodation that is reasonable and effective.”
Employers must also act promptly to initiate this discussion. Failure to engage in the interactive process does not, in and of itself, result in liability under the ADA. But failure to engage in the interactive process may prevent an employee from receiving reasonable accommodation, and may, therefore, result in liability under the ADA.