People who have disabilities may sometimes need accommodations. In the context of the workplace, reasonable accommodations are adaptations and changes to environment or procedures that assist disabled workers in performing their job. There are also accommodations that prospective employees may need throughout the hiring process as well. Needs and abilities vary from person to person and therefore so do the accommodations granted to each individual. Many different types of accommodations are relatively easy to provide and most come at no real cost to the employer.
Who is an Individual with a Disability?
When an individual has mental or physical limitations to their ability to perform major life activities, they are considered disabled by the Americans with Disabilities Act and are entitled to reasonable accommodations. When requesting accommodations at work, if the disability is not visibly obvious, the employer may ask for a doctor’s confirmation that the accommodation is necessary.
Types of Workplace Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable accommodations come in three main categories:
- No Tech – Accommodations that require minimum cost and effort. This can include allowing someone more time to complete tasks or letting them eat at their desk.
- Low Tech – Accommodations that require a small amount of cost and effort. This can include providing lumbar support for chairs or wrist supports for mice and keyboards.
- High Tech – Accommodations that require extra cost and effort. This can include installing automatic door and providing screen readers.
Common Examples of Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace
There are many ways in which an employer can provide reasonable accommodations for their employees such as:
Alterations – Changing the way a job is performed, the time frame it is performed in, or the people responsible for individual aspects of the job itself.
Equipment – Altering equipment such as chair modifications or changing the display and audio settings on a computer and/or providing devices such as desk heaters or magnifiers.
Help – Allowing personal aids or caretakers to provide assistance.
Materials – Making alterations to the format of provided information.
Parking – Providing accessible parking for employees.
Reassignment – Moving an employee to an equal position that is better suited to their needs.
Scheduling – Allowing for flexibility within an employee’s schedule to allow for extra breaks or time off for doctor’s appointments.
Technology – Providing things such as screen readers, modified headsets, and assistive software.
An example of reasonable accommodation may be changing the way a job is performed. This can be done by reassigning workloads amongst different employees, changing the employee’s location, or even removing or replacing certain duties.
Rearranging the way tasks and duties are divided amongst coworkers is one way to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities. If there are two receptionists and one of them is dyslexic, that employee might handle the majority of helping guests and transferring calls while the other handles the majority of the paperwork and typing.
Some disabilities may prevent people from being able to perform their job in the given work environment, perhaps due to mobility or sensory issues. If the job can be done from home or at a more accessible location, it may be reasonable to allow the employee to do so.
There are also some aspects of the way a job is performed that may be easily eliminated or changed completely. A deaf employee may be allowed to handle correspondences via text and email rather than making phone calls. An employee with mobility issues may be permitted to mail things out rather than making deliveries.
Modified Work Schedules and Flexible Leave Policies
Some disabilities may cause an employee to require a modified schedule. If accommodating that schedule does not cause the employer undue hardship, then it would be considered a reasonable accommodation. This may involve extra breaks, regular days off, or even a part time schedule.
- A person with an ongoing illness may require regular days off to receive treatment.
- A person with chronic pain may only be able to work every other day or require three day weekends in order to recuperate.
- A person with diabetes may require extra breaks to eat and manage their insulin.
There are also some disabilities that may require employees to take a leave of absence for more than a day or two. The employer is not necessarily required to provide paid leave in these situations, but they are expected to allow for disability leave when applicable.
- A person with a condition that involves flair ups may need extra time off.
- Some treatments may have extended recovery time.
- The workplace may be temporarily inhospitable due to a person’s disability.
- A person with a prosthetic may need time off for repair or replacement.
A flexible work schedule accommodation may also involve an employee being permitted to work remotely a day or two a week or working weekends instead of weekdays.
Modification or Purchase of Equipment or Devices
There are many accessibility aids that can help someone with disabilities in the workplace. Employers are required to provide reasonable equipment when necessary. However, employers are only responsible for things specifically needed for the job. Accessibility aids required for daily functions such as glasses or hearing aids are the employee’s responsibility.
Employees who are visually impaired may require:
- Screen reading software
- Braille or raised print copies of documents
- Magnifying devices
- Additional lighting
Employees who are hard of hearing may require:
- Text telephones
- Transcript software
Employees with mobility issues may require:
- Telephone headsets
- Modified equipment controls
- Modified desks for wheelchairs
- Stabilizing devices
Employees with dyslexia or ADHD may require:
- Guided reading software
Employees with chronic pain may require:
- Modified seating
Employers are required to provide employees with disabilities the same opportunities for advancement as their coworkers. This means ensuring that any training is accessible to everyone. Ways that employers may provide training accommodations include:
- Making sure that training sites are accessible
- Providing training materials in alternative formats
- Including sign language interpreters in presentations
- Adding captioning to video/audio guides
Modification of Policies
There are some companies that have policies that may prevent a disabled person from being able to do their job efficiently or safely. These policies would have to be amended or the employee given exemption. Examples of this may include:
- A worksite that does not allow animals permitting an employee to bring their service dog
- A company with a ‘no eating on the clock’ or ‘no food at your desk’ rule allowing an exception for a diabetic employee
- An employee with sensory issues or ADHD being allowed to wear headphones
- Modified emergency evacuation plans for employees with mobility issues
- A company that only provides on site parking for management providing a space for a lower-level employee with mobility issues
Modification of Physical Site or Building
Sometimes, the way the worksite itself is designed poses a hindrance to disabled employees that their coworkers do not face.
Structural changes are sometimes necessary, such as:
- Building ramps
- Adding accessible bathrooms
- Installing elevators/escalators
Non-structural changes may also provide solutions, such as:
- Setting up water coolers
- Syncing an alert light to the doorbell
- Moving meetings and training to another area
Provision of Readers, Communication Access Providers, or Personal Assistants
Some employees may need accommodations by way of third party assistance. This assistance may be needed occasionally or frequently depending on situation at hand. If providing this assistance does not cause undue hardship to the employer, it is considered a reasonable accommodation.
- Readers may be employed to assist employees with vision impairments as well as those with dyslexia or learning disabilities. The reader should be able to comprehend the materials being read so that they can clearly and accurately provide the information.
- Sign language interpreters can be especially useful for employees who are hard of hearing and/or mute to easily and clearly convey and receive information with their boss, coworkers, and clients.
- Captioners and transcribers may be needed for employees who are hard of hearing or have auditory processing disorder when dealing with video presentations.
- Drivers may be provided for vision impaired employees who are required to travel as part of their job.
- Personal assistants can help in a myriad of ways such as:
- Carrying things for employees whose disability involves a weightlifting restriction.
- Retrieving or filing things on high shelves for an employee in a wheelchair.
- Performing fine motor functions for those with conditions such as Parkinson’s.
Reassignment to a Vacant Position and Light Duty
Sometimes, an employee may develop a disability during their employment that makes it difficult or impossible to perform the job they were already doing. Sometimes, accommodations can be made. If there are no viable reasonable accommodations that can be provided, the employer may need to reassign them to another position with job duties they would be able to perform.
The reassignment should not be a demotion and should pay the same or a comparable salary. The reassignment should also not conflict with another employee being entitled to the position due to a collective bargaining agreement or any seniority system in place.
Some employers have provisions in place to assign employees to light duty when needed. This is not a requirement under the ADA, but a prudent option for industries that involve heavy labor and/or high risk of injury such as construction, fire departments, and law enforcement. Light duty positions are considered a reasonable accommodation if:
- The employee is unable to perform their current job due to disability
- The employee is qualified and capable of performing the light duty work
- Reassigning the employee to the light duty job would not cause undue hardship
Other accommodations and considerations may be needed for employees with disabilities depending on the specific situation.
Some jobs compensate their employees for gas milage when traveling is part of their duties. If an employee can not drive due to their disability, the employer may compensate them for public transportation costs instead.
Employees who have learning disabilities may be provided extra personal training to ensure that they are able to fully grasp the skills needed for their job.
Employees with ADHD may be permitted to use their own organizational system rather than company standard or given more flexibility in how they complete tasks.
Employees may be permitted to join meetings via phone or video chat if their disability prevents them from attending in person.
Workplace Reasonable Accommodation Considerations
The following are all considerations that employers must account for when providing reasonable accommodations.
Cost – Most accommodations require relatively low cost to the employer, and some can be provided at no cost at all. Reasonable accommodations are often far less expensive than anticipated.
Essential Job Functions – While employers are expected to provide reasonable accommodations, they are not required to alter their standards for quality and production.
Providing Accommodation – Employers are not usually expected to provide accommodations unless an employee with a disability requests it.
Selection – If there are multiple accommodations that may provide the same assistance to an employee, the employer is permitted to chose which one they will provide.
Undue Hardship – If providing an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer, such as exorbitant cost or difficulty, then they are not required to provide it.
What Are Essential Functions?
The tasks and duties that make up the foundation of a job are referred to as essential functions. The ability to perform those functions to a satisfactory level is what makes someone qualified to hold the position. An essential function is defined by:
- Being the reason the position exists
- The skill and expertise necessary
- How many employees are able to complete the same tasks
Reasonable Accommodation Process
The ADA and the EEOC maintain that accommodation requests be taken into consideration case by case. First, the employee must inform their employer that they have a disability. Employers are not responsible for accommodating disabilities that they are not aware of. The reasonable accommodation process depends on open communication and cooperation between the employer and the employee.
Requesting Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace
Every employer has their own procedure for requesting accommodations, usually through a manager or human resources department. The request must state the presence of the disability as well as how the disability prevents the employee from properly doing their job. It is best to make the request in writing and retain a copy for your own records. While it is not necessarily required to use the phrase ‘reasonable accommodation’ or cite the ADA, it is good to be clear and direct.
Obtain Preliminary Documentation
Employers are not entitled to an employee’s entire medical history. However, if an employee is requesting accommodation for a disability that is not obviously evident, the employer may request specific documentation from a healthcare provider confirming the disability and the need for accommodation. It is best to only prove the information absolutely relevant to the accommodation request and not allow the employer unlimited access to medical records.
Employers Responsibility When Responding to Reasonable Accommodation Requests
When an employee submits a request for a reasonable accommodation, they then begin what is known as an interactive process with their employer. This is an open communication between the employee and the person handling the request so that they can come to an agreement as to the best accommodation necessary for the situation. The employee may have specific ideas in mind and the employer may have follow up questions. The employer can request a confirmation from a health care professional that the accommodation is necessary if the disability is not obviously evident. The employer may also wish to review ADA guidelines to be sure of the extent of their responsibility. If the accommodation the employee is requesting is deemed too costly, the employer may want to do research to see if an equal but less expensive alternative is available.
Using JAN as a Tool
In 1983, the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy founded a free service known as the Job Accommodation Network to provide employers with information and guidance regarding job accommodations. Before the ADA was created, this tool established the standard for employer guidance when it came to working with those with disabilities. JAN provides a helpful summary of common problems and possible solutions known as The Employers’ Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The guide is frequently updated as new situations are brought to their attention.
Does An Employer Need to Provide the Accommodation Requested?
When an employee informs their employer that their disability is affecting their ability to do their job effectively, the employee may already have an accommodation solution in mind. The employer may choose to provide that particular accommodation, or they might find another equally effective accommodation that may be cheaper or easier to provide.
Furthermore, employers are not required to eliminate any essential functions of the employee’s position. If the employee is unable to perform that function due to their disability, the employer may find them reasonable accommodations or transfer them to another position of comparable pay.
Similarly, employers are not required to provide accommodations that would create an undue hardship on the employer. This is generally in reference to expense and difficulty, taking into consideration the cost in relation to the employer’s finances as well as the impact of providing the accommodation. The definition of what falls under this classification varies between situations as an accommodation that could be easily provided by a large company might impose an undue hardship on a small business.
Employers are also not required to provide employees with personal services and devices needed for everyday functions. Things like glasses and hearing aids may be covered by employer provided health insurance, but they are not considered workplace accommodations.
Implementing Reasonable Accommodations
While there are no exact required guidelines regarding the procedure for implementing an accommodation, it is best practice to move things along quickly and maintain respectful communication. Employers are encouraged to keep perspective on what the employee needs in order to perform their job and not on the disability itself. The employee is often the best person to ask when trying to come up with appropriate accommodations as they know best where the difficulty is and may already have ideas. It can also be beneficial to take the abilities and strengths of individual employees into consideration when assigning job duties.
Monitoring Accommodation Effectiveness
It is important that the employer and the employee work together when implementing an accommodation. The employee best understands their disability and what they need to perform their job. The employer best understands the business and what impacts certain accommodations might have. Ultimately, the employer has final say in how they will accommodate their employees, but the accommodation must sufficiently resolve the issue. It is advised that all parties keep a clearly documented record of the process.
What Happens if Workplace Reasonable Accommodations are Denied?
Sometimes, when an employer denies an accommodation, the matter can be easily resolved. They may require medical confirmation or a more thorough explanation of how the employee’s work is impacted. It might be the specific accommodation requested is not possible, but an agreement can be reached for a comparable solution.
If a manager or supervisor denies an accommodation request, the employee may be able to take the matter to human resources. If the company has no HR department, higher ups such as a district manager or business owner may be the next step.
If the employee is a member of a union, grievances can be filed through their union rep. There may be other procedures for filing internal complaints as well.
If all else fails, it may be necessary to file an external complaint. Employees can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a claim for disability discrimination. It may also be necessary to speak with an employment lawyer.
Contact Mesriani Law Group if Reasonable Accommodations are Denied?
People with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Employers are required to provide those accommodations unless they would cause undue hardship. Unfortunately, not all employers comply with ADA regulations and try to deny their employees accommodations. When this happens, legal action may be necessary. Our employment attorneys have the experience and dedication to help our clients through this stressful and difficult process. If your employer has denied your right to reasonable accommodations, call Mesriani Law Group today.
Workplace Reasonable Accommodation FAQs
What are examples of accommodation in workplace?
Some reasonable accommodation examples are: An office worker who has a vision impairment may ask for an extra lamp for their desk, a magnifying glass to help read paperwork, and screen reading software for their computer. An employee battling cancer may require a flexible schedule to allow for treatments and rest days. They may also need extra breaks or extended leave. A cashier with chronic pain may request to be permitted to sit while they work.
How do you explain reasonable accommodation?
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a reasonable accommodation as any change made to the job itself, the workplace environment, or the procedures of the hiring process that allow a person with a disability a fair chance to get and perform a job as well as someone who does not have a disability. A reasonable accommodation should not cause undue hardship for the employer.
What is reasonable accommodation in HR?
A company’s human resources department is generally responsible for processing and fulfilling requests for reasonable accommodations. They may ask follow-up questions, request medical confirmation, and ensure that effective accommodations will be possible and affordable for the company.
How do I write a reasonable accommodation request?
An accommodation request should explain that you have a disability and because of that disability, you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job and are requesting an accommodation. You do not have to go into detail regarding personal medical information but be clear about where the issue is and how it can be resolved.